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


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.

Drug-Impaired Driving, DUI/DWI/OWI/OWAI, Legislative Affairs

New report on drugged-impaired driving


Download the Report “Drug Impaired Driving:  A Guide for States

A report released in April, 2017 from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) in response to legislatures, law enforcement, and highway safety offices being urged to about drug-impaired driving. It includes information obtained by GHSA from a survey of state highway safety offices. According to the report, drug-impaired driving is more complex than alcohol-impaired driving for many reasons:


  • Hundreds of different drugs can impair drivers. Some drugs that can impair driving are illegal to use, some are legal to use under certain conditions, and some are freely available over-the-counter.
  • For many drugs, the relation between a drug’s presence in the body, its effect on driving, and its effects on crash risk are complex, not understood well, and vary from driver to driver. Additionally, some drugs – especially cannabis – attach to the fatty tissues of the body and therefore cannot be measured as blood concentration levels as is done with alcohol.
  • Data on drug presence in crash-involved drivers are incomplete in most jurisdictions, inconsistent from state to state, and sometimes inconsistent across jurisdictions within states. Additionally, laws regarding driving while under the influence of drugs (DUID) vary across the states.
  • It is more difficult for law enforcement to detect drug impairment at the roadside than alcohol impairment. There are no BAC charts or understanding the stages for becoming impaired while using some drugs such as cannabis as there are for alcohol.
  • Data on drug presence in crash-involved drivers are incomplete in most jurisdictions, inconsistent from state to state, and sometimes inconsistent across jurisdictions within states. While laws regarding driving while under the influence of drugs (DUID) vary across the states, it is still more difficult to prosecute and convict a driver for DUID than for alcohol-impaired driving (DUI/DWI/OWI).

Drug-impaired driving is an increasingly critical issue for states and state highway safety offices. As of April 2017, marijuana may be used for medical purposes in 29 states and the District of Columbia, although these states are still struggling with legislating its use, cultivation, and sale. While these states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, it is still a federal crime and cannot be transported across state lines. Furthermore, in every state it is still a crime to drive impaired under the influence of drugs or alcohol, including marijuana. In 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) reported that drugs were present in 43% of the fatally-injured drivers with a known test result, more frequently than alcohol was present. NHTSA’s 2013–2014 roadside survey found drugs in 22% of all drivers both on weekend nights and on weekday days. In particular, marijuana use was cited as increasing.

Congress identified drug-impaired driving as a priority in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015. This multi-year highway bill directed NHTSA to develop education campaigns to increase public awareness about the dangers associated with drugged driving. The Act also required the Department of Transportation to study the relationship between marijuana use and driving impairment and to identify effective methods to detect marijuana-impaired drivers.

Legislatures, law enforcement, and highway safety offices in many states are urged to “do something” about drug-impaired driving, but what to do is far from clear. While the report does not attempt to be a complete review of the extensive information available on drugs and driving, it does provide references to research and position papers, especially papers that summarize the research on drugs and driving that have appeared in the last 20 years.

Watch the CNN video, “Your Brain on Weed” for an insight on marijuana and TCH, the chemical that gets you high.

Drug-Impaired Driving

DUID – Cannabis

A DUID – driving under the influence of drugs – is quite different from an alcohol-related DUI in terms of the potential consequences from the DMV.

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. Three other states will soon join them after recently passing measures permitting the use of medical marijuana. While states are all scrambling to address issues regarding cultivation, dispensing, possession, taxation and legislation, it is still illegal to possess marijuana at the federal level, or to transport marijuana from state to state. More importantly, in every state, it is still a crime to drive under the influence of any drug, including marijuana.

The cannabis plant producing marijuana contains naturally-occuring toxins, particularly the chemical compound  THC,  tetrahydrocannabinol. When injested or inhaled, THC attaches to the fatty tissues, i.e.  the brain, binding to specific receptors in the brain called cannabinoid receptors. In low doses, THC causes some pain reduction, may reduce aggression, can stimulate appetite, and help reduce nausea. Higher doses may cause the “high” associated with marijuana, leading to altered perception of time and space, or feelings of fatigue – conditions that are ultra dangerous to driving a motor vehicle.

THC is not the only toxin contained in that marijuana joint. According to an article published in the Smithsonian magazine, cannabis is often contaminated with fungi, pesticides and heavy metals. Washington, the second state to legalize recreational marijuana, requires testing for microbial agents like E. coli, salmonella and yeast mold.

Manufacturers may employ potentially harmful compounds like butane to produce concentrates, stripping the cannabis plant of most everything but THC. Tests also show that marijuana plants can draw in heavy metals from the soil in which they are grown, and concentrating THC can increase the amounts of heavy metals, pesticides or other substances that end up in a product. The problem rests in the lack of any watchdog organization to regulate production, and the contribution any additives might have in increasing the effect cannabis has on a driver’s capabilities that might lead to a DUI drugs, DUID, drugged driving, or driving under the influence of marijuana or any combination of drugs.

Most states classify a DUID as an offense with the same consequences as driving under the influence of alcohol. Driving under the influence of drugs and driving under the influence of alcohol are very similar. Both affect the nervous system in a way where drivers are impaired and in an altered state of consciousness. However, there are significant differences between the two offenses when being charged, as there are no guidelines for blood alcohol concentration of cannabis products, whether ingested or inhaled, because THC can dissipate from the blood but still be present in the brain. In order for a person to be considered “driving under the influence” of a drug, it must have such an effect on a person so that their mental or physical abilities are so impaired that “a driver is no longer able to drive a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary care, under similar circumstances.” Never mind that in some states, a driver can legally use marijuana with a physician prescription;  if he or she is impaired, they can be charged with driving under the influence of a drug. The same holds true for prescription medication and over-the-counter products such as Benadryl or Nyquil.

A DUID is also quite different from an alcohol-related DUI in terms of the potential consequences from the DMV. If a person is arrested because of an alcohol-related DUI, the department or bureau of motor vehicles can suspend their license if the person refuses field sobriety tests including breath, blood or urine testing, or if there is a BAC above .08%. In DUID situations, there is no actual amount of drugs that can cause an “administrative suspension”. The DMV can still impose a suspension if the person is convicted of any DUI charge in criminal court.