Time: Driving While High Deadly Crashes

On October 16, 2014, in Uncategorized, by sieditor

Driving While High Deadly crashes involving pot are on the rise. But stopping stoned drivers won’t be easy By Eliza Gray

Here’s a dispatch from the hazy frontier of law enforcement: On an afternoon in June, Joe Golec, a 32-year-old cop from Northampton, Mass., was making a mock DUI evaluation in a sunny Classroom at Salem State University with a group of other cops from around New England. Dressed in Khakis and a T-shirt, he introduced himself to Kristina, a 39-year-old waitress dressed in jeans and a white top, one of several volunteers who had spent the afternoon drinking so that Golec and the other cops could practice their sobriety-test skills.

Golec’s first task was to take Kristina’s vital signs. He asked her how much she had slept that night before, what she had eaten that day and how much she’d had to drink-two beers, she told him about two hours before. Wearing surgical gloves, he took her pulse and measured her blood pressure, then repeated his observations out loud. He asked her to walk a straight line and balance with one foot raised in the air. He told her to close her eyes, tilt her head back and tell him when 30 seconds had passed.

What made Golec’s job harder? He wasn’t only trying to figure out if Kristina was drunk. He was looking to see if she was stoned.

Police and public-safety experts in the U.S have spent decades getting drunk drivers off the roads. They have made vast progress: based on random stops. The number of drivers with some alcohol in their system was 35.9% in 1973. By 2007, the figure had fallen to 12.4%, according to the Department of Transportation, but spotting drivers who are high presents a more complex challenge for cops charged with keeping the roads safe. And it has become harder now that roughly a third of all Americans are living in states that have decriminalized marijuana. It is a job to which few if any of the old rules apply.

To put it simply: proving that someone is driving stoned is thornier problem than determining that a driver has had too much to drink. The body metabolizes pot in a way that makes it nearly impossible for scientists to agree on an appropriate legal limit for motor-vehicle operation, let alone come up with a toxicological test-like a simple breath-alcohol test-to measure how much a driver has inhaled. While it would seem obvious that driving while stoned is a bad idea, there isn’t enough evidence to prove it. Partly because of the roadblocks that years of illegality have posed, there is a dearth of scientific research on exactly how pot impairs driving and precisely how risky it is.

But it is no surprise that solving the problem is a priority for public officials, since there is evidence to suggest that driving high is a real danger. From 1999 to 2010, during a period of widespread decriminalization, the rate of drivers who died in crashes with marijuana in their system tripled, from 4% to 12% according to review of some 23, 591 driver deaths in six states. The data does no show whether marijuana caused those crashes, but it does tell us that the number of drivers on the road with pot in their system has been rising fast and at the very least correlates with mortality. It seems, at least for people at the wheel, there may be such a thing as being too mellow.

Defining a Legal Limit

THE PROBLEM OF IMPAIRED DRIVING GOES all the way back to repeal of Prohibition in 1033. Americans saw a spike in automobile accidents due to drunken driving, prompting intoxication research that established 0.15% as the acceptable limit for alcohol in the blood while driving. Drunk-driving laws proved hard to enforce at first, with cops forced to rely on subjective signs like alcohol on the breath or a flushed face, but the changed in 1954 with the invention of the Breathalyzer, a handheld machine that could calculate alcohol in the blood by measuring vapors in the breath. Thanks to activism from groups like Mothers against Drunk Driving, it is now illegal in all 50 states to drive with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08% or above. Police officers commonly use breath tests on the roadside, and today toxicological results have mostly taken the place of subjective police testimony in court.

The body’s relationship with alcohol is straightforward; as your blood-alcohol content rises, you get drunker, and as it declines, you sober up. While tolerance later effects-at a 0.08# blood-alcohol level, someone who rarely drink is likely to seem drunker than a booze hound-the science says that at 0.08% all people are impaired to some degree in the skills they need to safe driving.

To read this article in its entirety visit Time

Source: Time

 

 

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