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, DUI/DWI/OWI/OWAI, Field Sobriety Tests, Sobriety Check Points

Synergistic effects of mixing drugs and alcohol contribute to death of 21 year old

Toni_Anderson

Kansas City Police took to Twitter @kcpolice to announce the death of Toni Anderson, the missing woman from Wichita who was found dead in her submerged car in the Missouri River. Medical examiners reported ethanol, cocaine and amphetamine intoxication were contributing factors to the cause of death from hypothermia and drowning. She had turned 21 just last month.

The victim had been pulled over hours before she drove into the river for driving the wrong way toward oncoming traffic. In the video captured from the police officer’s dash cam, Anderson can be heard giggling and her speech slurred as she tells the officer that she wasn’t drinking. “I just feel really sick,” she said.

Toni_Anderson_police_stop_videoWatch the video of Toni Anderson being stopped by Kansas City Police Officer for driving the wrong way toward oncoming traffic

The officer instructed Anderson to drive to the parking lot across the street to gather herself. It was not apparent whether the officer conducted any field sobriety tests or had Anderson take the breathalyzer, which would have detected the alcohol but probably not the cocaine or the amphetamines in her system. Unless the newest breathalyzer on the market was in use.

In a study published in the Journal of Breath Research, researchers tested apparatus designed to detect drugs on a person’s breath.  The device, designed in Sweden, can detect 12 different controlled substances, such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, morphine, and some marijuana components. While not 100% accurate, it can supplement the current blood and urine samplings used by law enforcement to detect blood alcohol levels. Additionally, it may not detect THC, the poison in marijuana.

Whether or not it would be helpful for officers to have a breathalyzer test that can show more than just alcohol is not enough to stem the occurrences of lethal cocktails like the one contributing to Toni Anderson’s death. Drivers should be aware that mixing drugs with alcohol can be fatal, producing synergistic effects that multiplies the individual effect of each drug by four. For example, one beer plus one barbiturate could equal the same effect as four beers. The combination of drugs with alcohol has been the cause of many hospitalizations – and accidental deaths, as was the case for Toni Anderson.

Drunk Driving, DUI/DWI/OWI/OWAI, Field Sobriety Tests, Technology

Laser technology pegs drunk drivers

infrared laser thermometer in hand
Laser Technology designed to check a driver’s blood-alcohol level from afar

Gotta love technology. Researchers at the Military University of Technology in Poland have come up with a laser-based device that can measure blood-alcohol levels through a car window. It is the same technology, referred to as standoff detection, the military uses to find weapons, hazardous materials and explosives and where lasers and optical techniques are of critical importance for their ability to passively and actively probe threats near and far. Standoff detection can take place at distances from several centimeters up to a kilometer.

How does it work? According to an article in Smithsonian.com:

A laser emitter and receiver sit on one side of the road, while a mirror sits on the other. As a car passes, the emitter sends a laser beam through the vehicle’s window and bounces it off the mirror. The beam is sent at a wavelength that can be absorbed by any alcohol vapor—so, any power loss equates to the presence of booze in the car. If there is no alcohol, there is no absorption. The higher the concentration of the alcohol inside the car, the lower the power measured, because the beam is absorbed by the alcohol.

This laser technology could make checkpoints a thing of the past. But first, there are a few legal hurdles to overcome, including securing a ruling on whether the technology can meet the reasonable doubt test officers must have to pull over a suspected drunk driver. Researchers of the technology must also fix challenging bugs in the system, for example the device giving a false alarm if only the passenger is drunk, and failing to give a reading if the window is open.