Over the past few decades, there has been a decreasing trend in the number of drivers under the influence of alcohol. One study reported 7.8% of drivers in 1973 were over the current legal limit, and by 2007 that number dropped to 2.2%. This is due in part to stricter enforcement, as the laws were changed to cover more drivers and enforce harsher penalties. However, there has been a recent increase in driving under the influence of drugs which may now be rivaling drunk driving.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has just released a report, Drug-Impaired Driving: A Guide for What States Can Do. The report suggests that people are driving around under the influence of drugs at nearly the same rate the they are under the influence of alcohol. An author of the report, James Hedlund, formerly of the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not believe that drugged driving is getting enough attention from lawmakers.
The report states 38 percent of drivers killed in auto accidents tested positive for drugs in their system, with about one-third of those testing positive for marijuana, and about 10% for amphetamines. In comparison, about 42% of drivers killed in accidents had alcohol in their system. Another recent roadside survey from the NHTSA found 22% of drivers tested positive for drugs when pulled over.
The study does caution that the data considered does not consider the levels of THC in a driver's system. THC is an active ingredient in marijuana, the effects of which can wear off after an hour or two. However, the drug can still be detected in the system days after it has worn off. This distinction between testing for THC versus testing for impairment has been a problem for states since relaxing restrictions on marijuana.
Almost half of all states have approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Four states and Washington, D.C. have also made marijuana legal for recreational use. With more states placing pro-marijuana measures on the ballot, the trend does not appear to be slowing. California may be considering legalization of recreational pot as early as next year. Despite the relaxed treatment to marijuana, it remains illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana in all states.
The study suggests that the legalization of marijuana is one of the reasons for an increase in drugged driving. Additionally, prescription drug use, which can have impairing effects on driving, has quadrupled in the last 20 years. Executive director of GHSA, Jonathan Adkins said that the federal government needs to “take a leadership role in this issue similar to that of drunk driving and seat belt use.”
At the Gorelick Law Offices, attorney Lynn Gorelick has dedicated her legal career to defending people charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the East Bay. With over 30 years of experience, Lynn Gorelick understands how a DUI conviction can affect your future, and how to fight to keep a conviction off your record. If you are facing a DUI, contact the local East Bay DUI defense attorney who understands that you do not have to plead guilty just because you were arrested.