Summit County holiday DUIs saw overall decline, with exception of Breckenridge | SummitDaily.com

Summit County holiday DUIs saw overall decline, with exception of Breckenridge

Summit County saw an overall downtick in DUI citations over the holiday season and into the New Year, although Breckenridge police reported an increase that may have been lifted by large winter visitor numbers.

Last year, the Colorado State Patrol issued a total of 22 DUIs in Summit from October to December, down from 38 DUIs over the same period in 2015. DUI crashes were also down from 13 to 6.

CSP public information officer Colin Remillard said the decline was likely due to a number of factors, including the rising popularity of ride-hailing service Uber and a statewide push in recent years to bring down traffic fatalities through heavier DUI enforcement.

"It's a big focus for us with those fatality numbers, which are shockingly high," Remillard said. "We feel the biggest way to reduce those is to get these impaired drivers off the road as quickly as possible."

Last year, there were 605 traffic fatalities in Colorado, a number that has gone up every year since a low point of 447 in 2011.

Getting the local CSP troop back to full strength has helped, too. Several years ago, Remillard said, a re-organization left Summit County with a shrunken force, but it has since rebounded. The county now has 10 troopers, and two more are currently in training.

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Having that manpower has allowed CSP to do more saturation and high-visibility enforcement during the holiday months.

"We get extra people on duty and pick a specific area of Highway 9, and every trooper in Summit County hits it hard," Remillard said. "I think we've gotten the word out that we're focusing on these areas between the towns — Keystone to Dillon and Frisco to Breckenridge."

CSP hasn't yet imposed DUI checkpoints in Summit, primarily because of the legal requirement that drivers have a route to bypass them. The local troop considered using the intersection of Highway 9 and Swan Mountain Road, but decided that might exacerbate congestion.

The Summit County Sheriff's Office, meanwhile, logged 14 DUIs during the holiday period from Thanksgiving to New Year's, down from 16 over that timeframe in 2015. Silverthorne held roughly the same, with five compared to six the year before.

"It has not been a banner year for DUI enforcement," said Silverthorne police chief John Minor. "I can't really ascertain why, maybe people are getting smarter. You can lose your license, your insurance could triple or get cancelled and it can cost you five to 10 grand. Maybe people are letting that settle in."

Breckenridge, on the other hand, booked 12 holiday season DUIs last year compared with seven in 2015. As the most urban part of the county and home to its biggest ski area, the town's police force has a lot of different duties to balance, including ski traffic signaling, ensuring safety at events and responding to high volumes of service calls.

"That's the season when we have more people out, so we try to do what enforcement we can," said Breckenridge police chief Dennis McLaughlin. "We have a lot of people visiting in town and a lot of special events so it reduces our enforcement ability somewhat. There are so many variables that factor in."

Last year, the department got a boost from grants totaling nearly $20,000 from the Colorado Department of Transportation for DUI enforcement. Since officers on dedicated DUI patrol typically aren't sent to respond to calls, extra enforcement means having an officer put in an extra shift — and draw overtime pay.

Remillard said he suspects a big increase in the number of Ubers operating in Summit County in the past two years may be helping to bring down the overall DUI numbers.

But for all of the ride-hailing happening in Breckenridge, there's still the simple fact that visitor numbers have been climbing for years, and a particularly snowy December might have helped in almost doubling holiday DUIs booked by the town police.

Nearly 40,000 cars passed through the CDOT traffic meter at the corner of Tiger Road and Highway 9 in November and December last year, the highest total on record.