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The Difference Between Buzzed and Drunk Driving Accidents in Colorado

by  on  Car Accidents & Motor Vehicle Collisions

Being buzzed feels a lot different than being drunk. You enjoy the euphoria without losing control. Is it okay to drive in that condition? After all, you feel like you can handle everything just as well as when you’re sober.

That feeling, however, is highly deceptive. One of the first effects of alcohol is loss of judgment. That loss of judgment can be deadly behind the wheel.

So what is the difference when you’re in a car accident and you’re buzzed rather than drunk? Let’s see what Colorado law has to say.

Two Degrees of Drunk Driving in Colorado

Colorado statutes define two degrees of drunk driving offenses. Someone is automatically considered to be “driving under the influence” or DUI under Colorado Rev. Stat. §42-4-1301(1)(f) when they have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. This offense is a misdemeanor for a first offense, but penalties increase if a driver accumulates subsequent offenses. If a DUI causes death or serious injury to someone, or if the driver has three prior convictions, then DUI is treated as a felony.

A driver who is found to have a blood alcohol concentration between .05 and .08 is usually charged with a lesser offense, “driving while ability impaired,” which is referred to as DWAI or simply DWI. This is also a misdemeanor.

What is important to realize about both types of alcohol-related offenses is that a driver can be found guilty not only based on their blood alcohol concentration but also on the behavior they exhibit while driving or while in a position to drive.

DUI and DWI Can Both Hinge on Judgment

The legal definitions of both DUI and DWAI can both be on whether alcohol or a combination of drugs and alcohol has affected a driver’s judgment. Someone can be found guilty of DUI if the consumption of drugs and/or alcohol has made them “substantially incapable” of exercising “clear judgment, sufficient control, or due care” while driving. Similarly, a driver can be convicted of DWAI if alcohol and/or drugs make them less able to “exercise clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care” than they ordinarily would have. In fact, Colorado Rev. Stat. §42-4-1301(1)(g) specifies that alcohol or drug use that affects these abilities “to the slightest degree” can be enough to result in a violation.

This makes it pretty clear that driving while buzzed is driving while impaired from a legal standpoint. Such behavior makes a driver subject to criminal penalties. But what happens when an impaired driver causes a car accident?

Car Accident Liability

A driver is considered liable for causing an accident when they fail to operate with reasonable care under the circumstances and that failure triggers an accident that injures others. The failure to act responsibly is referred to as negligence.

In many situations, a person harmed by someone’s negligence can sue that person and recover compensation for their losses. For instance, if a driver is distracted by a text conversation while driving, they are failing to show reasonable care to others on the road, and they can be held liable if they rear-end another vehicle. Often, it is necessary to reconstruct the accident scene and piece together evidence to determine how someone’s actions caused the accident to occur before they will be considered negligent.

However, Colorado law treats someone as automatically negligent or “negligence per se” when they violate a statute or ordinance that was designed to protect the accident victim from harm. DUI and DWAI laws are designed to do just that. They protect the public from harm caused by drivers who cannot execute sufficient judgment, control, or care to drive safely. Therefore, when a driver violates these rules, it is much easier to hold them responsible for the harm they cause in a car accident.

When is it Safe to Drive After Drinking?

It can be difficult to predict or understand the effect alcohol has had on your system. Since alcohol can affect people—and impair them—even when consumed in small quantities, it is never safe to drink while there is alcohol in your system. 

How long does alcohol remain in your system? That depends. When someone takes a drink, most of the alcohol is absorbed through the small intestine and passes directly to the bloodstream, and then throughout the entire body. Eventually, the body channels most of the alcohol to the liver, and the liver starts to work on metabolizing it.

If an individual drinks more than the liver is able to metabolize, the excess alcohol accumulates in the blood and tissues until it can eventually be processed by the liver. It is impossible to know how fast your body will metabolize alcohol in a given timeframe. The safest course of action is to plan ahead so that you will not have to drive at all after consuming alcohol. Ridesharing services, public transportation, and designated drivers can make this much easier.

There is No Difference Between Buzzed Driving and Drunk Driving When It Comes to Accidents in Colorado

The bottom line is that buzzed driving is not any safer than drunk driving. Driving under the influence of even the slightest amount of alcohol can impair your judgment and senses and make you more likely to cause an accident. If you cause an accident, you can easily be found legally liable and forced to pay large amounts of money to compensate victims, in addition to facing criminal penalties.

If You or a Loved One Suffered Injuries Caused by a Buzzed or Drunk Driver, Consult an Experienced Attorney

Accident victims and their families are often entitled to receive compensation when a driver operating while impaired or under the influence causes injuries and damage. However, to protect legal rights and the ability to recover full and fair damages, it is important to avoid saying or doing anything that could jeopardize the case. 

An experienced attorney can provide advice, assistance, and representation right from the start, including answering questions from insurance companies and investigators. To speak to a dedicated injury lawyer at Levine Law for a free consultation and case evaluation, contact us today.