blood alcohol concentration - BAC, blood alcohol levels - BAL, cannabis, Crashes and Collisions, Drug-Impaired Driving, Drunk Driving, DUI/DWI/OWI/OWAI, DUID, DWAI, FARS, fatalities, Field Sobriety Tests, Legislative Affairs, marajuana, medical marijuana, NHTSA, Road Safety Research, traffic fatalities, Traffic Safety, Victims of DUI

Happy 4/20, Prepare for DUIs

420

Today, April  20th (4/20 or 420), is marjuana’s high holiday for the eight states and the District of Columbia that now allow recreational use of marijuana, and 30+ states that  allow its use for medical purposes.  There is even talk from Democrats about introducing a bill in Washington to remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances. But today, cannabis is still a controlled illegal substance at the Federal level, it is still illegal to transport cannabis products across state lines, still produces effects on driving that can lead to a DUI or DUID arrest, and it still incredibly difficult to standardize for safety and quality controls. Cannabis is the most phyto-chemically complex plant on the planet. It is an impossible task trying to ensure all plants, even of the same cannabis genotype, have all the same chemical profile.

Some might make the comparison between alcohol prohibition and cannabis, both Federal legislative measures prohibiting the production, importation, transportation and sale of related products on a national level. History has shown that lifting alcohol prohibition has not eliminated the abuse – and resulting consequences – that leads to impaired driving. According to the NHTSA, in 2016 there were 10,497 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol concentration of .08 g/dL, the minimum legal limit for DUI nationwide for adults over 21. According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System,  the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes testing positive for marijuana rose 88 percent from 2013 to 2015. A Denver Post  analysis of data and coroner briefings report the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana had risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling in that time; state law, however, does not require coroners to test deceased drivers specifically for marijuana use in fatal crashes.

Starting with Oregon in 1973, individual states began to liberalize cannabis laws through decriminalization. In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis, sparking a trend that spread to over 30 states by 2017. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Have roads in these states become more dangerous since the drug’s legalization in its various forms? The Post’s findings include:

  • Marijuana is figuring into more fatal crashes overall. In 2013, drivers tested positive for the drug in about 10 percent of all fatal crashes. By 2016, it was 20 percent.
  • More drivers are testing positive for marijuana and nothing else. Of the drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2014 who tested positive for cannabinoids, more than 52 percent had no alcohol in their system. By 2016, it had grown to 69 percent.
  • The average age of drivers in deadly crashes in 2015 who tested positive for marijuana was nearly 35, with a quarter of them over 40.
  • In 2016, of the 115 drivers in fatal wrecks who tested positive for marijuana use, 71 were found to have Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, in their blood, indicating use within hours, according to state data. Of those, 63 percent were over 5 nanograms per milliliter, the state’s limit for driving.

Both alcohol and marijuana can affect a driver’s ability to think and solve problems, coordination, reaction time, judgment, memory and mood. While science has figured out just exactly how alcohol impacts the body’s organs, systems and functions, the same cannot be said of cannabis. Results of field sobriety tests, including blood and urine sampling as well as breathalyzers, can tell if a driver’s blood alcohol level is over the legal limit. No test can tell whether a driver is too high to drive because of smoking or inhaling, popping pills, eating or vaporizing cannabis products. Unlike alcohol, the active ingredients that cause the cannabis high can remain detectable in the blood stream for days or weeks; unlike alcohol, the impairment does not wears off in a matter of hours, and no amount of food intake will change the effects. Law enforcement officials, prosecutors and public policy makers concede there’s still too little information about marijuana and how it is detected to understand just how much the drug is affecting traffic fatalities.

Drug-Impaired Driving, Drunk Driving, DUI/DWI/OWI/OWAI, DUID, DWAI, fatalities, Victims of DUI, Wet Reckless

“Wet Reckless” same as “DUI”?

dui_vs_wetrecklessMost states have laws that prohibit prosecutors from reducing DUI charges for suspected drunk drivers. Under California law, however, a plea bargain can be negotiated for impaired drivers to  reduce DUI penalties in exchange for a guilty plea, or to reduce  charges from a DUI/DWI to wet reckless, even though there is technically no actual law on the books that defines what a “wet reckless” charge would be.  If you have been charged with a DUI, DWAI or OWI in Colorado, Florida, Texas or Wisconsin,  you may also be able to have the charge for driving impaired under the influence of drugs or alcohol reduced to wet reckless. In Washington State, DUI charges can be pleaded down to “Wet Negligent Driving” (Negligent Driving in the 1st Degree), which is a misdemeanor in that state.

A person suspected of driving under the influence may take advantage of a wet reckless charge when his or her blood alcohol content (BAC) is close to 0.08%. Prosecutors in states where plea bargains are permitted can also pursue a lesser charge of wet reckless if they have a weak case that can be lost at trial.  If someone pleads guilty to a wet reckless charge, they are pleading guilty to a charge of driving recklessly where a prosecutor may have stated for the record that alcohol or drugs were involved with the charge.  Other advantages of pleading guilty to a wet reckless:
–  Unlike a second and third DUI where progressive penalties become harsher, there are usually no mandatory sentencing enhancements for a wet reckless charge.
–  There is also a  shorter jail term associated with a wet reckless charge as compared to a charge of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
–  With a wet reckless charge, in most cases there is no automatic suspension of your license, although the DMV may still do so. Normally, in order for a person who is offered a wet reckless plea bargan to keep their license, they must win their DMV hearing.
–  Generally, the probation period for a first time DUI is anywhere from three to five years. The probation period for a wet reckless is generally one to two years.
–  Although the fines for a wet reckless charge are less than the fines associated with a DUI charge, the increased insurance rates and/or policy cancellations caused by either will be the same, as insurance companies treat DUI charges and wet reckless charges equally.

The consequences of a crash caused by an impaired driver are also the same, whether he or she is charged with a DUI or with wet reckless driving. The latest statistics available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report that in 2016, there were  10,497 fatalities in motor vehicle traffic crashes involving drivers with blood alcohol concentration, content or levels of .08  or higher.

Drug-Impaired Driving, Drunk Driving, DUI/DWI/OWI/OWAI, DWAI, Repeat DUI offender

Drunk drivers reported driving impaired 80 times before their first arrest

According to Do Something, a global movement activating young people in every US area code and in 131 countries, on average, a drunk driver will drive 80 times under the influence before their first arrest. That equates to someone being killed in a drunk driving crash every 51 minutes in America alone.  Earlier this month in Colorado, a man notorious for driving drunk was sentenced to 10 years in prison when convicted of his eighth DUI.

The Daily News reported that Albano Bustillos, 53, was arrested on his first drunk driving charge over 20 years ago and has been picked up eight times since then. “In his most recent arrest, Bustillos had a blood alcohol level of .227.

Albano_Bustillos
Albano Bustillos 8x DUI arrests, now serving 10 years in prison – Weld County Sheriffs photo

He was found sitting in his car with his head down,” said Weld County (Colorado) District Attorney Rourke. In Colorado, drivers with a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .17 or higher, even if it is the driver’s first offense, will be labeled a PERSISTENT DRUNK DRIVER (PDD) and
sentenced as strictly as a repeat-DUI offender.

In Colorado, DWAI (Driving While Ability Impaired) means driving a vehicle when a person has consumed alcohol or one or more drugs, or a combination of both alcohol and one or more drugs, affects the person to the slightest degree. A person DWAI is less able to exercise clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.  The Division of Motor Vehicles has the legal authority to suspend a driver’s license for DWAI regardless of any criminal charges a driver may face through the courts. These penalties, known as Administrative Penalties, can cause an automatic suspension of a driver’s license as well as fees and points, depending on the offense:

DWAI 1st Offense: 8 points toward license suspension; $200 to $500 fine; up to 180 days in jail; up to 48 hours community service.

DUI 1st Offense: Administrative license revocation for 9 months; $600 to $1,000 fine; up to 1 year in jail; up to 96 hours community service; alcohol education.

DUI/DWAI 1st offense under 21 years old: Drivers license suspended 3 months and 4 points added to driving record.

The penalties increase substantially for repeated offenses and, in some cases, you may be required to install an ignition interlock device on your car. The only way to challenge Administrative penalties is to request an alcohol hearing.

Alcohol Hearings

Drivers have seven days after receiving a revocation/suspension notice to request a hearing. You must go in person to the DMV to put in a request. You will also be required to turn over your license if you did not do so at the time of the violation. You may also be eligible for a temporary driving permit while you wait for your hearing.

An Arrest

  • If you fail the roadside sobriety test, which could entail anything from standing on one leg while answering a barrage of questions to touching your nose and walking a straight line, you will be read your rights.
  • You will be handcuffed and taken to a city or county jail.
  • A tow truck will take your car and impound it.

Criminal Penalties

The Colorado Department of Transportation’s HEAT IS ON brochure states that 30,000
motorists are arrested for impaired driving in Colorado each year at a cost of $10,270  for a first-offense DWAI:  $10,000 including lawyer fees, rising insurance rates, fees to get a license back, probation supervision fees, all the way down to the brain injury surcharge and court costs. This figure is based on the minimum fine.

It is easy to see that drinking and driving is not worth any cost.