Gov’t hypes drugged driving threat, calls for zero tolerance DUID laws nationwide

Today the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration posted a press release entitled “Drug Use Among Fatally Injured Drivers Increased Over the Last Five Years“.  The release summarizes the full report that examines the the drug test results of drivers who had been killed in automobile crashes.  While the report itself is objective and offers many caveats about reading it as an indictment of drug-using drivers as serious safety risk, the mainstream media hasn’t been as “fair and balanced” and the Drug Czar has jumped on the release to forward his agenda.

The headline from the Associated Press reads: “Gov’t: Drugs were in 1 in 5 drivers killed in 2009“.  The lede for the story is:

About 1 in 5 drivers who were killed last year in car crashes tested positive for drugs, raising concerns about the impact of drugs on auto safety, the government reported Tuesday.

Other outlets like USA Today give it a more chilling headline: “U.S.: Third of tests on motorists killed shows drug use“.  The discrepancy results from the AP considering all drivers who were killed when not every driver killed was drug tested.  The USA Today considers the “tests on motorists killed”, thereby discounting the 37% of killed drivers who were never drug tested.  Whatever – 20% of all drivers or 33% of all drivers tested – they’re dead, they drove, there’s drugs, be afraid!

The AP then follows with a second paragraph that points out the obvious logical fallacy of “correlation = causation” – just because dead drivers had drugs in their system doesn’t mean drugs caused the accident that killed them – something the USA Today article never addresses:

Researchers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the new data underscored a growing problem of people driving with drugs in their systems. But they cautioned that it was not clear that drugs caused the crashes and more research was needed to determine how certain drugs can hinder a person’s ability to drive safely.

However, while AP doesn’t get around to distinguishing what exactly “drugs” refers to until paragraph seven, USA Today opens by explaining we’re talking about all drugs, prescription and recreational:

One-third of all the drug tests done on drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents came back positive for drugs ranging from hallucinogens to prescription pain killers last year — a 5 percentage point increase since 2005, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reported Tuesday.

Nobody recommends driving while impaired by drugs – legal or illegal.  NORML has maintained this as a core Principle of Responsible Use for years.  But there are many legal prescription drugs that will cause impairment that bear the warning “Until you know how you may be affected by this drug, do not drive or operate heavy machinery,” which suggests to me that once you do know how it affects you, it’s your judgment call.  In fact, one of those drugs is prescription dronabinol, the synthetic cannabinoid THC marketed as “Marinol”.

AP’s seventh paragraph also points out that presence of a drug in your system may have no bearing on whether that drug was impairing you in the first place:

The tests took into account both legal and illegal drugs, including heroin, methadone, morphine, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, LSD, prescription drugs and inhalants. The amount of time the drug could linger in the body varied by drug type, the researchers said, so it was unclear when the drivers had used the drugs prior to the fatal crashes.

Cannabis metabolites can be detectable in urine for weeks and THC itself can be detected blood for at least six hours.  Most illegal drugs can be detected for a few days in urine and a few hours in blood.  Prescription drugs are just as varied.  So we’ve got 20% or 33% of killed drivers who had a drug in their system that may or may not have contributed to the crash that killed them and they may or may not have taken that drug before driving.

For comparison’s sake, USA Today links to the stat that drowsiness was a factor in 17% of all fatal crashes.  You just may be more likely to die in a crash caused by lack of a nap as by taking the pill to get a good night’s sleep.  Are you scared yet?  Well, you should be, because the whole point of scaring you about the drugged drivers is the push for nationwide zero-tolerance DUID laws.  Back to the USA Today:

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, called the numbers of fatalities involving drugs “alarmingly high,” and called for more states to pass laws making it a crime to have illegal drugs in the body while driving, no matter how much. Seventeen states already have such laws.

The lack of research also presents a problem for lawmakers to develop laws. They can outlaw the use of all illegal drugs while driving, but what about someone who took a prescription sleeping pill a few hours ago?

Since they can outlaw the illegal drugs and there is no political cost in doing so, they will.  These “zero tolerance” laws means if they detect any metabolite of any illegal drug, you are guilty of driving impaired.  Since that joint you smoked could be detectable long after its effects had worn off, you’d be an impaired driver in the eyes of the law even if you were completely sober and unimpaired.  Since marijuana is detectable for much longer periods than most any other drug, legal or illegal, “zero tolerance” laws amount to witch hunts for cannabis consumers behind the wheel.

The irony here is that compared to the threat from drinking drivers, drowsy drivers, texting drivers, and prescription drugged drivers, the threat from drivers using cannabis is negligible.  Just last week we took a look at a study in the Netherlands that showed that experienced users can develop a tolerance to the psychomotor impairing effects of cannabis.  This summer we examined a study performed in Iowa and Connecticut that showed cannabis-using drivers performed as well on a driving simulator after smoking marijuana as they did before smoking marijuana.  (If you’d like the full examination of marijuana and driving, please see Paul Armentano’s impeccable white paper, Cannabis and Driving: A Scientific and Rational Review.)

As for the prescription drugs, there isn’t much political benefit in threatening a majority of your constituents, especially the older ones who do most of the voting, with a DUI charge for the pills the doctor required them to take every day.  Also consider the lobbying money and clout of Big Pharma that won’t look kindly on strict new driving laws that might cause people to use less pills.

No, the per se limit on prescription drugs isn’t coming to your state anytime soon… but maybe the end of driving privileges for cannabis consumers in your state is.  The seventeen states with current per se DUID laws are:

  • Arizona (except for medical marijuana patients), Utah, South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Delaware, and Georgia already have these zero tolerance laws for any THC or metabolites of THC – if you toked within the past week, you could already be an impaired driver.
  • Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island have zero tolerance for THC in the blood – if you toked before bed you might be an impaired driver in the morning.
  • Nevada and Ohio consider you impaired if they detect 2 nanograms (2 billionths of a gram) of THC per milliliter of blood (2ng/ml) and Pennsylvania raises that limit to 5ng/ml.
  • Virginia, Minnesota, and North Carolina have zero tolerance laws for drugs that do not include cannabis or its metabolites.

Learn what the DUID laws are in your state.

77 thoughts

  1. WELL a little history was made today when the president made it clear that he did not want any oil platforms on the east coast in the Atlantic.This is a real good sign.believe it or not.the comments immediately turned to more war in the middle east,but I do not think he will buy this idea again.Maybe for once with out their permission,He is actually considering alternative fuel.
    Sure we can probably look forward to some reprisal.Now would be a great time to consider hemp as a fuel.If the oil barons try to provoke more war in an effort to black male the government or the people , they will be to obvious and we should demand reprimand and protest in mass against it.

  2. I agree about the alcohol. Why was alcohol not mentioned in the statistics. Not only is it possible the driver had not even been under the influence of any of the drugs they tested positive for, but they may have been completely totaled on alcohol. This is how corrupt this little “report” might have been. This blog should have mentioned that as well.

  3. U.S. Supreme Court
    BREITHAUPT v. ABRAM, 352 U.S. 432 (1957)
    Rochin v. California. 342 U.S. 165 , and Brown v. Mississippi. 297 U.S. 278 ,
    Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383 (1914)
    “As I understand today’s decision there would be a violation of due process if the blood had been withdrawn from the accused after a struggle with the police. But the sanctity of the person is equally violated and his body assaulted where the prisoner is incapable of offering resistance as it would be if force were used to overcome his resistance. In both cases evidence is used to convict a man which has been obtained from him on an involuntary basis. I would not draw a line between the use of force on the one hand and trickery, subterfuge, or any police technique which takes advantage of the inability of the prisoner to resist on the other…
    And if the decencies of a civilized state are the test, it is repulsive to me for the police to insert needles into an unconscious person in order to get the evidence necessary to convict him, whether they find the person unconscious, give him a pill which puts him to sleep, or use force to subdue him. The indignity to the individual is the same in one case as in the other, for in each is his body invaded and assaulted by the police who are supposed to be the citizen’s protector.”

    Leviticus 17:11
    Acts 15:19-20

    wicked bloodsucking rapists. They have so crossed the line they’re inhuman. They’re not human in what they do anymore. They’re a bureaucratic monster, a beast that isn’t human anymore.

  4. All Nixon Fault ?

    Back way when Nixon organized a panel to research if Marijuana should be legalized. The panel returned a finding of “Yes”. Nixon declined the panels findings and form a little organization called DEA……


  5. Michigan may have a zero tolerance DUID program, but I have read from multiple sources that the Michigan State Supreme Court has specifically excluded legitimate Medical Marijuana patients who test positive for cannabis metabolites — actual impairment must be proved. AFAIK, a legal decision that represents a spotlight of sanity and reason, in an otherwise Anslinger-inspired fascist reactionary anti-drug response.

    It is interesting that the 1 in 5 statistic includes OTC drugs, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs. Their statistic also does not prove a correlation between any of the drugs involved as a direct factor in these traffic incidents. This is absolutely a reactionary fear-based response, as opposed to any scientific basis in fact — government funded scientific studies from as far back as 1939 (La Guardia Report) and 1971 (Shafer Report) have asserted that cannabis alone has a minimal negative effect upon driver competence.

    [Paul Armentano responds: Legal challenges to the MI law have clarified that drivers must have a schedule I drug in their system — not the metabolites of said drug — to be charged under the DUI statute.]

  6. Skull & Bones-CIA smuggling-Iran-Contra affair-Poppy fields in Afghanistan, do your research, your concept of reality and politics will shatter once you understand what im talking about and then you will get very very pissed when you assimilate how many time you wasted whining on internet forums, they will never legalize MJ, NEVER, you’ll have to fight for it.

  7. Comment # 16 (Paul you should read)

    I read that too. You would have to be blind to miss that cover (L0L).

    I think the last paragraph summed up whats wrong with the movement (Medical Marijuana). If we want it legal thats all we should be fighting for. Med Ganja only makes things worse in the long run. 70% of Med Ganja Facilities patrons are in between the ages of 20-30 years old; really ? Their main complaint unexplained pain; really ? Since when has the youth of this great nation become so fragile at such a young age. It just looks silly…..really friggen shamefully silly.

    I smoke but Im not going to claim Im disabled in any way to acquire access. If we want it legal then lets focus on that; because this backboor attempt is a dishonest way to legalization; lets not start off on the wrong foot.


  8. Holy Smokes. Maybe, this is an opportunity to change the “Drunk” or “Drugged” blood or breath testing to one that measures a persons real influence of a substance on their motor or ability skills. Computer testing in the field could detect a persons “Under the Influence” with simple questions, motor skills and ability tests. People react different to levels of intoxicants, the mere presence of alcohol or drugs does not indicate “under the influence”. We have already established that fact by the tolerance of legal limits in the case of alcohol. However, I do support a zero tolerance for minors. God Bless & Jesus is the Reason for the Season, Merry Christmas. IMHO.


  9. I have come to a total realization with the whole problem.We keep trying to hide our pot use in fear of going to jail. Well I say no more!!!!! If all smokers of marijuana started smoking in the open ,in public ect ect How will law enforcement be able to arrest all of us. I even lead by example.My motor driving skills are still working just fine .Marijuana does not affect my driving skills so much as all of the inexperienced or idiot drivers out there (and you all know who you are).They cause more accidents and fatalities than pot.BUT there is no stats on the idiot who cut you off and you wind up in the ditch.
    So I say F*** IT ,and SMOKE EM IF YOU GOT EM.They cant lock us all up!!!!

  10. Hi All,

    The politicians are well aware that marijuana posses NO threat to anything but their political aspirations. These men and women are NOT stupid in any way shape and/or form. They read the very same information that we read and comprehend it very well.

    Politicians are NOT haulting the legalization of Pot but the uninformed masses are. Tomorrow if the country suddenly woke up and said “want it legalized” – it would be legalized – it would benifit them to do so.

    So when you do these little RANTS about how politicians do not understand; the fact is we do. However, we will not risk our jobs over a plant that you will smoke regardless if its legal or not.

    Furthermore the DEA is a very large and established organization with very high paying and powerful jobs. I promise you THEY ARE NOT GOING ANYWHERE ANYTIME SOON.

    So in closing, if you want it legal make it legal. How? Thats painfully obvious – but we wont tell.

  11. They do all these tests on how cannabis affects people,but they don’t do these test on experienced smokers. They do the tests on first time smokers or once in a while smokers,where the effects are more dramatic. Test the experienced smokers for once and you will get a more accurate result.But then that takes away the FEAR FACTOR

    [Paul Armentano responds: A just published trial assessing the psychomotor skills of experienced users after inhaling cannabis is summarized here:

  12. I was reading about this woman who just up and started eating dirt.Her doctors were so surprised because her health started improving.Apparently she had a mineral deficiency,so any way.i was wondering if because it makes a person feel better the person would be arrested if they get caught driving on dirt.

  13. US MI: Editorial: Judge Made Right Decision in Pot Case
    Pearson made the right call by finding Chase guilty. He held true to Michigan law which states a driver cannot operate a vehicle with any amount of marijuana in their body. Blood tests presented during the trial showed Chase had THC ( the active ingredient in marijuana ) in her blood stream.

  14. What about the officialy most lethal drug in the country? How about O% tolerance for it? ALCOHOL KILLS more people in this country than all the ILLEGAL drugs combined. My GOD, they have all gone stark raving MAD.

  15. Here’s my take on the whole driving under the influence and the problem. If you’ve been drinking, get into an accident, and it shows up in the test, DUI, plain and simple, case closed! But if you wreck and turn up positive for MJ, your guilty cuz it’s in your system. It might be from smoking 5min ago, an hour ago, a week or four weeks. It’s in your system and they have no way of telling when. Until they can devise some method of being able to tell the difference, your gonna be charged. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re high and get into an accident, and you’re at fault, guilty and case closed! But until they can come up w/something to be able to tell if you’re currently stoned or the cannoids are from a joint last week, there’s nothing, according to law, that you can do. Someone told me they have such a devise in Canada, is it true? If so use it here! If it isn’t true, then they should be working on it.

  16. The zero-tolerance drugged driving thing appears to be a new type of drug hysteria unique to the United States. Despite the much seriously harsher laws in Europe for driving under the influence of alcohol, no nation of the EU has instituted this kind of ‘cannabis gotcha’ into their highway laws.

    Could it be because the Europeans see cannabis by itself as a non-issue when it concerns driving? Probably.

    Could it be that be that U.S. corporate interests are driving the effort to create a U.S. police state? Most likely.

    Could it be that activists need to kick some corporatist and bureaucratic ass over this? Definitely.

  17. this is where saliva testing will come in handy… their any new info on it? it may tell when cannabis was last used….now , if they will take the time to formulate when or how long it is active in ones system…..

  18. Drug use among all people.Drivers and walkers has increased.And once we get 25 states it’s in the bag.It WILL snowball.And any politician that does’nt jump on will be crushed.

  19. Sadly, for the victims and for the movement, this issue now looms large subsequent to the tragedy in Italy with the 8 dead cyclists. Though the facts and circumstances are still vague, it has nonetheless become a source of ammunition for the anti-prohibitionists.

  20. 1 in 5 car accidents had drugs involved. LOL. How about we flip that statistic? 4 in 5 car accidents did not involve drugs, that means that people who do not take drugs are more likely to be involved in an accident!! I am not serious of course, but it goes to show how far fallicious reasoning can get you. You can prove anything if you do not follow the basic rules of logic.Furthermore, it sounds like this study was completely botched in order to get the results they wanted. Who is keeping these people in check? Oh yeah, we are supposed to be. Alas, we live in a country full of fools that follow, ad hominem, question begging, and straw man arguments as if they were sent down by God himself. Thank you God for the free will, but couldn’t you have made us a little more reasonable?

  21. the article stressed that the threat from drivers using cannabis is negligible in comparison to that presented by drunk, drugged, drowsy or texting drivers. The threat that does exist is most likely a result of inexperience with marijuana use. It’s unfortunate that these measures will harm medical marijuana patients, who are mostly responsible and experienced users, more than any other group of users.

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