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With Pot Legal, Scientists Study Detection of Impaired Drivers

Soulskill posted about a year and a half ago | from the mind-the-potholes,-potheads dept.

Transportation 608

Hugh Pickens writes "A recent assessment by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, based on random roadside checks, found that 16.3% of all drivers nationwide at night were on various legal and illegal impairing drugs, half them high on marijuana. Now AP reports that with marijuana soon legal under state laws in Washington and Colorado, setting a standard comparable to blood-alcohol limits has sparked intense disagreement. Unlike portable breath tests for alcohol, there's no easily available way to determine whether someone is impaired from recent pot use. If scientists can't tell someone how much marijuana it will take for him or her to test over the threshold, how is the average pot user supposed to know? 'We've had decades of studies and experience with alcohol,' says Washington State Patrol spokesman Dan Coon. 'Marijuana is new, so it's going to take some time to figure out how the courts and prosecutors are going to handle it.' Driving within three hours of smoking pot is associated with a near doubling of the risk of fatal crashes. However, THC can remain in blood and saliva for highly variable times after the last use of the drug. Although the marijuana 'high' only lasts three to five hours, studies of heavy users in a locked hospital ward showed THC can be detected in the blood up to a week after they are abstinent, and the outer limit of detection time in saliva tests is not known. 'A lot of effort has gone into the study of drugged driving and marijuana, because that is the most prevalent drug, but we are not nearly to the point where we are with alcohol,' says Jeffrey P. Michael, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's impaired-driving director. 'We don't know what level of marijuana impairs a driver.'"

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608 comments

Easy (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054017)

Just ask the driver what snack they'd like from the police car.

Re:Easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054143)

When did pot become legal in the US? Where is the /. story on that?

Re:Easy (5, Informative)

aicrules (819392) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054217)

Not entire US. Washington state and Colorado. The vote was part of the natoinal election 11/6/2012. It will take a while for it to meaningfully take effect, and with Federal government still classifying it as an illegal drug, we may get to see a nice states' rights case soon eough. I look forward to that as I always like to see the Federal government put in its place.

Do you have brownies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054413)

thank you sir!

Field Sobriety Test (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054021)

You just do the same thing that cops do when the driver refuses the breath test... a Field Sobriety Test.

Re:Field Sobriety Test (2, Informative)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054305)

Or just pay attention to what's happening in the rest of the world:

"Rather than blowing into a breathalyser, drivers will be asked to provide a saliva sample by placing a small absorbent pad on their tongue for a few seconds. The Securetec Drugwipe II Twin device is supposed to take about five minutes." (In Victoria, another test is mentioned in the enabling legislation, called Cozart RapiScan.)

"Saliva testing only shows up marijuana usage in the last four to five hours, but 24 hours for all the other drugs, including amphetamines (speed), opiates (heroin, morphine, codeine), cocaine, benzodiazepine (valium and so on) and THC (cannabis). The advantages of saliva over urine testing are the speed of obtaining results (10 minutes versus several days) and it is less invasive.

http://www.druginfo.adf.org.au/fact-sheets/the-facts-about-roadside-drug-testing-web-fact-sheet [adf.org.au]

Re:Field Sobriety Test (2)

macs4all (973270) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054381)

"Saliva testing only shows up marijuana usage in the last four to five hours, but 24 hours for all the other drugs, including amphetamines (speed), opiates (heroin, morphine, codeine), cocaine, benzodiazepine (valium and so on) and THC (cannabis). The advantages of saliva over urine testing are the speed of obtaining results (10 minutes versus several days) and it is less invasive.

Or so says the sales literature.

Re:Field Sobriety Test (4, Informative)

Internetuser1248 (1787630) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054411)

Even the summary covered that: "However, THC can remain in blood and saliva for highly variable times after the last use of the drug."

While on the subject, does anyone have the source for this quote? "Driving within three hours of smoking pot is associated with a near doubling of the risk of fatal crashes" I find it doubtful and would like to read the methodology. In my experience impairment from marijuana use in the absence of other substances impairs driving very little. There are some issues with concentration and alertness but in most people it also has the effect of lowering their speed and therefore I find it hard to believe the crashes are fatal so often. Unless they pull out in front of a speeding driver or something. Of course this is all speculation based on personal experience, hence why I want to read the study referred to in the summary. It isn't mentioned in tfa either in those words.

Re:Field Sobriety Test (3, Informative)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054529)

Role of Cannabis in Motor Vehicle Crashes, Michael N. Bates and Tony A. Blakely 1999

Re:Field Sobriety Test (1)

somersault (912633) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054343)

I have friends who train some pretty advanced Parkour and freerunning while high.. and in fact I still have decent balance these days even when I'm drunk (I can still balance fine along a half-inch wide railing after having say the equivalent of 5 beers), likewise from all the Parkour training.. so testing people's balance and such isn't a very precise measure IMO.

It's really interesting that pot is being legalised. It actually makes me think that the US political system is working as it should in some regards, ie the public are actually being listened to. I bet 10% of my friends will want to move to the US when they hear this news :)

The ignorance abounds (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054029)

Why would you assume that all impairment fades with the high?

Re:The ignorance abounds (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054085)

Because that's the entirety of the drug's effects? Are you expecting some kind of weed crash or highngover?

Re:The ignorance abounds (2)

khallow (566160) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054299)

What makes you think the period of the "high" is the entirety of the drug's effects? I bet we'll find that the period of noticeable impairment is somewhat longer than the period of the high. Not a whole lot longer though. But would it surprise you if it turns out that one needs to hold off from driving for a couple hours after the high passes?

Re:The ignorance abounds (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054399)

I'm not the original A/C, but I had to chime in. No it is not the entirety of it's effects. For those who smoke it all the time it's hard to distinguish day to day because there isn't enough time out of the influence to objectively judge the effects. However, for someone who does not smoke all the time it is easy to see the effects that can last days after use. These effects include reduced mental focus, tiredness, lack of motivation, slower reaction time, etc. All of the same effects experienced under the initial influence of the drug are there, just to a lesser degree. Alcohol has similar impact though it doesn't last quite as long. This drug was illegal for a very good reason and I think legalizing it for recreational use is highly irresponsible and we will see an overall negative impact to society over time.

Maybe not to the extremes of refer madness, but certainly not benign either. There are very real issues associated with legalization. I'm far more in favor of decriminalization where we keep in place safeguards that we have now such as pre-employment drug screening, zero tolerance DUI, etc. This way we minimize public impact without filling up our jails with people who's only crime is that they are too stupid to figure out that they need help.

Re:The ignorance abounds (2)

amiga3D (567632) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054559)

Very good point. I too am in favor of decriminalization but not legalization. Most people that don't smoke pot today that actually want to smoke it don't because of employment concerns. It's difficult nowadays to find a job that pays a decent wage that doesn't drug test. I know many people that I work with that talk about pot and how they'd like to smoke it but can't take a chance on losing their job. Note they didn't even mention the law.

Re:The ignorance abounds (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054313)

Why would you assume that all impairment fades with the high?

You need to make a proper study. I see the ad in a newspaper: "A scientific team looks for people willing to get high for money." :-)

Make the limit 0 (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054031)

Make it zero tolerance. If someone is pulled over they are not going to get the test administered unless they are suspected of impaired driving.

Re:Make the limit 0 (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054233)

So you can't drive for a week after smoking in case some policeman either doesn't like the look of you, is trying to get his stats up, or is bored. Great plan...

Re:Make the limit 0 (2)

Jason Levine (196982) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054515)

But, in the summary, it said it could be detected a week after imbibing. So guy smokes pot and then, five days later, is pulled over by a cop. The cop suspects him of being under the influence (was driving erratically for some reason or perhaps the cop is just stereotyping based on what the guy looks like) so administers the test. This shows a small amount of THC in his system and he's arrested of driving under the influence (zero tolerance). However, he hasn't smoked any pot at all in a few days and is definitely not under the influence.

That's why it's important to figure out how to sort through the "smoked a bunch of weed and is now driving impaired" folks and the "smoked some weed hours/days ago, is fine now, but has detectable remnants of THC in his system."

Actual Detection of Impared Drivers (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054043)

I know this is going to be a really odd way to detect impared drivers as far as people think but it is quite imperical and correct. You simply have the person do a coordination test with a video game type device. Impared drivers will show up whatever the reason. This can also be determined by blink rate and by detection of eye movements. It can be done very rapidly and has been in use by some municipal bus systems for some time with quite spectacular reductions in accidents. In fact this could be built into cars and we could have the car simply park if the driver is impared. (WOW! No arrest needed!) How about this wild idea. Skipping the police and stopping filling our jails and stopping all the fines etc while achieving the goal of public safety. It detects all types of imparement and doesn't bother wasting time on any other issue. Sleepy is detected too.

This is going to get to be a moot point shortly as the cars will have things like advanced adaptive cruise control that essentially drives the car. How about Google's self driving car etc. I think we are going to ban driving of cars by humans very shortly as they simply are the most dangerous part of the car driving system. You know the NUT behind the wheel is the most dangerous part of the car.

Re:Actual Detection of Impared Drivers (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054107)

How can you tell if the person is under the influence of something or if they are merely a statistical exception to the norms?

Re:Actual Detection of Impared Drivers (5, Insightful)

Cenan (1892902) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054229)

Who cares? If you for whatever reason aren't capable of driving a vehicle, then you shouldn't be allowed to, no matter the reason. Design the test in such a way that it tests for skills needed to drive a vehicle, kind of like a field driver's exam. Then stop worrying about how much pot is too much and start concentrating on what skills are actually needed to drive. Problem solved.

Re:Actual Detection of Impared Drivers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054501)

But, but, but how do we make a moral judgement then? We can't be basing these things off rational tests, man. We've got to be able to point our finger and say 'There, little Johnny, that's the bad man'.

Re:Actual Detection of Impared Drivers (2)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054527)

if you use that as your measurement stick, probably 90% of 'moms with kids' would fail the 'are you distraction free enough to drive?' test.

we all know this is true, too. soccer moms scare me WAY more than drunks or any other intoxicated driver does. the thing is, drunks know they are drunk (usually) and so they at least try to be careful. moms, otoh, think things are perfectly fine even though little johnny is screaming his head off in the back seat and slapping his sister suzie. each time the mom turns around to scold the kids, she takes her eye off the road.

I seriously fear the soccer moms more than any chemically enhanced driver.

if we are going to get bad drivers off the road, start with the distracted ones. but those also vote and so they won't let you punish THEIR bad behavior.

soccers moms are a sort of 3rd rail or protected class. but they cause more accidents than anyone else (imho).

Re:Actual Detection of Impared Drivers (1)

Stele (9443) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054561)

Have you driven around much lately? Most drivers are terrible. I rarely ever feel safe while driving around town; there are always idiots cutting people off without signalling, weaving through traffic, drifting into the wrong lanes during turns, failing to yield (or even looking when entering a roundabout), talking on the phone, and who knows what else. I think most people have forgotten the rules of the road, and that is far more dangerous than driving around high.

Re:Actual Detection of Impared Drivers (4, Insightful)

Endo13 (1000782) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054579)

All three of these responses are spot-on. Remember, driving is a privilege, not a right.

Re:Actual Detection of Impared Drivers (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054239)

If they're in a normal state for them and they're still failing an impairment test, then they quite simply shouldn't be allowed to drive. If your reactions are normally that bad, or your perception is that inadequate, you're a danger to other people on the road. Sucks to be you, but it'll reduce the number of accidents on the road.

Re:Actual Detection of Impared Drivers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054265)

If someone does badly on this test and isn't under the influence of something it means they are a bad driver and shouldn't be on the road anyway. They are driving as bad as someone who is drunk or high...and isn't that the point? We are trying to remove dangerous drivers tron he road.

Well... (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054047)

Here is my personal anecdote.

I've been driving high nearly every day for almost 20 years, commuting at least 100 miles a day for 17 of those. I have never been in an accident & my last ticket (41 in a 30) was over 8 years ago.

I don't drink & drive at all, that shit is dangerous.

Re:Well... (3, Interesting)

xclr8r (658786) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054193)

I'm sure as you well know.. different people are affected in different manners by THC consumption. Some get overly paranoid, some overly talkative, some think everything is ground breaking new idea, and some do become worse drivers. I've witnessed someone become impaired while smoking when s/he thought that there was no affect on his/her driving. There definitely was an impairment particularly merging on highways with those massive looping turn-arounds. I made the individual stop and took over after a heated argument.

Am I saying your impaired? No... but there are some people who can't handle themselves and aren't aware that they are not in full control of their faculties.

I just really hope fork lift drivers in the big box hardware stores are careful and don't use right before their shift. However, I expect to see accidents here. I'm glad this has been legalized in those states but hopefully this is enjoyed responsibly.

Re:Well... (2)

YttriumOxide (837412) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054271)

I'm sure as you well know.. different people are affected in different manners by THC consumption.

This is something more people need to pay attention to. I myself for example after only one or two puffs will feel seasick, dry mouth, confused, and ready to vomit (if I have one or two more, I will vomit). After that, I pretty much want to curl up, sleep and get rid of the nastiness going on in my brain. Obviously, I gave up trying it after four or five times of the same effects (friends tried to tell me that it's like that for everyone the first time, but gets more fun on subsequent uses - for me, it didn't).

Other people I know however can sit and smoke joint after joint and then still be quite functional (definitely "altered", but functional nevertheless).

There's no way I'd get behind the wheel of a vehicle in the state I am in after only one or two puffs of that stuff; but I'd have no problem sitting in a car my brother is driving after he's just finished a whole joint.

Anyway... wake me up when some sense comes to law-makers on far more interesting substances like the psychedelics.

Re:Well... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054311)

My first time wasn't like that. My roommate however, gets that every time.

Maybe you puritans should just not use it instead of trying to prevent me from using what for me is a working anti-depressant.

Everyone's different. Live with it.

Re:Well... (2)

YttriumOxide (837412) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054425)

Maybe you puritans should just not use it instead of trying to prevent me from using what for me is a working anti-depressant.

Ummm... actually, I never said anything about it being bad to legalise it or wanting to punish users or anything like that - just that it has really negative effects on me.

For reference, I'm strongly in favour of legalisation of all substances that have limited to no harmful effects on the user; and then awareness campaigns and education in place to encourage people to use it responsibly if they do choose to use it at all (similar to alcohol (which I absolutely acknowledge shouldn't have been legal to begin with were it not already grandfathered in and cause too many problems to ban)). To me, this class of "limited to no harm" drugs most definitely includes marijuana.

My preferred substances are illegal pretty much everywhere. I can get psilocybin truffles legally with a quick trip over the border in to the Netherlands; but I find they give me a small stomach upset along with the trip and also the trip itself doesn't last as long as I'd like. I far prefer LSD, which to the best of my knowledge is illegal pretty much everywhere (there may be no defined laws in some of the more lawless parts of the world; but I'd rather not go live there...)

Re:Well... (4, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054355)

I just really hope fork lift drivers in the big box hardware stores are careful and don't use right before their shift.

I guarantee you, every warehouse worker that wants to be stoned on the job is already stoned on the job.

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054595)

I can vouch for this. When I worked in warehouses, pretty everybody was stoned or on something (not alcohol though - that's too obvious). It's often the easiest way to get through the mind-numbing boredom of literally moving boxes about. Horrible but not as horrible as when I worked in a certain printer companies production-line. Again, a heck of a lot of people there were stoned or otherwise 'impaired'. Still we got those shitty printers put together and packed into boxes....horrible.

"Marijuana is new" (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054049)

"Marijuana is new"

Yup, sure it is. Invented last week, right?

Apples and Oranges... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054051)

What level of marijuana impairs a driver?!? Weed gets you high. There is only one level of high, and that is high. You can smoke 100 joints an hour and still be at the level of high. You drink 100 beers an hour and you will be at the level of dead. There is NO comparison.

Re:Apples and Oranges... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054251)

No, you're wrong. If people want to kill themselves driving, they can certainly choose their poison, nobody really cares. Problem is, the idiot can kill others, not just him/herself. So, impared is impared, no matter how they got in that state. You're also discounting people who mix the two, which is probably, most.

Re:Apples and Oranges... (1)

radja (58949) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054341)

the currently known tests do not test for high, impairment or being under the influence. They test whether there is THC in the blood or saliva. This is the reason why this test is not used in the Netherlands. The law clearly states that driving under the influence of marihuana is not allowed, but that is not something these tests can show.

Re:Apples and Oranges... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054417)

No. Everything I said was absolutely true. Go back, re-read, try again.

And there was no discount in the last statement of yours. We have already established alcohol is bad, so yes, mix something with alcohol, and it can't be good. Your logic is flawed entirely.

Good. Start testing the correct thing. (4, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054053)

The blood alcohol level is a red herring. It correlates with impairment, but a number of other factors also affect it. The test should be for reactions and situational awareness. If you fail for any reason, then you should be prevented from driving. If you fail and also have been taking drugs that are known to cause this kind of impairment, then you might get some extra penalty.

Re:Good. Start testing the correct thing. (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054119)

This. If you can't test for the drug, test for reactions. That's cheap, easy and relatively portable. If a person fails the test, then take a blood sample.

Re:Good. Start testing the correct thing. (1)

Ceriel Nosforit (682174) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054463)

Taking a blood sample is an invasive procedure and needs to be carried out by competent medical personnel. Its a very large escalation from asking someone walk down the white line and stand on one leg.

Re:Good. Start testing the correct thing. (4, Interesting)

sunderland56 (621843) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054131)

This. Right now if someone hits and kills a pedestrian, it's called an "accident" and they go free if they're sober - but they go to jail for many years if they had a drink. It doesn't matter that incompetent driving caused the death - the only time a driver is punished appropriately is when they had a drink.

A test for competency would also get a lot of older drivers who cannot drive safely any more off the road.

Re:Good. Start testing the correct thing. (2)

hubang (692671) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054551)

What if you're tired? If you've taken no drugs, but worked twenty hours in a row? You WILL fail an impairment test. But you've done nothing wrong. Maybe you shouldn't be driving. But then, the state SHOULD be providing affordable and comprehensive public transit. Infrastructure is the government's #1 job, not that they seem to take it very seriously.

If you're in Europe, you can tune this out. Even in most American cities public transit is abysmal. In Boston for example, the subways shut down at midnight. For reference, the bars close at 1AM. That's in a major city. Most Americans don't live in the cities. And most suburban and rural areas don't even have taxi services available. In most of the US, rhetoric aside, driving isn't a privilege: Driving is a necessity.

Oddly, American towns and cities did had good public transit a hundred years ago. Back then, even most small towns had trolley services. Then a conspiracy destroyed public transit. It's OK though; after making millions destroying public infrastructure and lobbying against light rail, GM had to pay a $5000 fine. For more details, watch "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" It covers the basic story pretty well. The real life bad guys were a shade more cartoonish than Christopher Lloyd though.

And then there is the question of enforcement. Would the testing be done in the same, "at the whim of the guy with the badge" approach we have now? We don't inspect or enforce pretty much any public health issues in the US. Food safety, Drug safety, traffic safety, etc.: All public safety in the US is set up to assign blame after stuff hits the fan. It didn't used to be like this either.

How do you objectively test for "situational awareness"? I don't know of ANY way to do it, that isn't completely at the whim of the person conducting the test. Most cops should not be taken at their word. Right now, there are huge scandals in Massachusetts over these exact two things. One over a police lab making up evidence, falsifying data and generally doing bad things; for more than a decade. And second a failure to oversee a compounding center, and just generally assigning blame later after many people contracted fungal meningitis from contaminated shots. And the only reason it was exposed was that one doctor took on themselves to track down the cause of an odd outbreak.

The test should be for reactions and situational awareness. If you fail for any reason, then you should be prevented from driving. If you fail and also have been taking drugs that are known to cause this kind of impairment, then you might get some extra penalty.

It's a common brush-off answer. But it ignores reality completely. If you can't balance on one leg and touch your nose, while reciting the alphabet backwards... you fail. If you refuse to walk a straight line backwards in icy, sub-zero conditions... you fail. It doesn't matter that you have artificial hips, knees, or limbs.

Didn't see this coming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054065)

I've watched this become more and more of an issue here in southern california; it is a common occurance in fact;
for someone to be charged with an "MUI" after the fact, probably based on the cops suspicions that the person would test positive.

Some people shouldn't drive while too high and others don't seem to have a problem; just my observations.
But will that have any effect on the predisposition for an officer to want to find something wrong with someone?
I think not.

-- seeya next year

Why not factor in actual research? (5, Informative)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054071)

According to NORML [norml.org], what basically happens when someone is driving while on marijuana is that while they're somewhat impaired, they also drive more cautiously and leave more space around them. The net effect is that while they're annoying, they aren't all that dangerous.

By contrast, when someone is driving drunk, they tend to be both impaired and reckless. The net effect is that thousands of people each year are killed by drunk drivers.

Re:Why not factor in actual research? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054101)

You don't get extra points for linking to a pro-legalization website as an impartial source.

Re:Why not factor in actual research? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054159)

In an impartial propaganda war; sure, you might simply find the same info burried on the FDA or NIH sites.

Re:Why not factor in actual research? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054537)

problem is, it is true;there have been independant studies of driving under marijuana influence and the subjects generally drive slower, tend to be over cautious, and realize they are impaired,which results in less driving errors.(sometimes even making less errors than when they are straight).In contrast to alcohol where subjects drive faster, are less cautious, and dont believe they are impaired.This is why the anti-pot advocates dont usually use marijuana driving stats for their cause.

Re:Why not factor in actual research? (4, Informative)

Stirling Newberry (848268) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054157)

This is a bad summary. Research, not just in the US, has been on going for over 40 years. When put to empirical test (For example: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/(SICI)1099-1077(1998110)13:2+%3CS70::AID-HUP50%3E3.0.CO;2-R/abstract [wiley.com] ) Marijuana, by itself, is low to moderately impairing, especially in doses sufficient to produce a high. However, when combined with even small amounts of alcohol, even half legal BAC limits, the effect was much larger. Add this to an aging population and there is an area of concern, particularly because other aspects of decriminalization, legalization, or medicalization are compelling.

For comparison texting is much worse, and distraction and fatigue produce similar results. We could have the computer on a car detect impairment based on driver response however. But that too raises questions.

It is the mechanization problem that has been one of the economic factors behind drug criminalization for the better part of a century, besides, of course, the prison-industrial complex being profitable and being a good place to warehouse psychopaths and feed into common racism and fear of crime.

Re:Why not factor in actual research? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054309)

Annoying drivers are among the most dangerous. They make everyone around them drive more recklessly.

Re:Why not factor in actual research? (2)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054373)

So, instead of developing a suite of testing tools for each new and exciting drug that hits the market (black or pharmacy) why not come up with a system that tests actual impairment? I would think a simple device that tests reaction time, decision making, and coordination would be enough to consistently identify people driving impaired by anything. Then give the same tests at the DMV with more stringent requirements each time a person renews (most places every 5 years). And yes, that would catch people impaired by non-chemical means, but I don't necessarily see that as a bad thing.

Re:Why not factor in actual research? (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054385)

Because actual data, which we've been collecting for decades contrary to the assertion of the NHTSA, doesn't support fear mongering.

Re:Why not factor in actual research? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054389)

The cautious or pensive driver is often the more dangerous. Traffic has a natural flow, and accidents occur when that flow is altered. Someone driving 40 mph on the highway is often just as dangerous as a driver traveling at 80 mph as they become an obstacle that every other driver must avoid.

Re:Why not factor in actual research? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054441)

Well, NORML is a somewhat biased source. I'd say that might be true for some, but certainly not all.

Insurance? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054077)

I honestly would be more concerned with the assumption that most insurance companies would likely deny you any claim if you were found to be high. Without a threshold for testing, I could easily see this heading to the SCOTUS over which law, federal or state, the insurance COs need to follow when making claim determinations.

But, most likely, smoke pot and drive and the effect is you have no insurance.

Why not just punish bad driving? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054089)

I drive high all the time, never had a problem. I am infinitely safer than somebody texting or speeding or following too close.

Why can't they legalize drunk driving, and just punish actual traffic violations? This Lew Rockwell guy states the case much more eloquently: http://www.lewrockwell.com/rockwell/drunkdriving.html

NOT GOOD !! POT AND DRIVING !! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054093)

Once had the misfortune to sit shotgun with a STONED driver !! He drove up highway exit ramps TWICE in 10 minutes !! He otherwise seemed capable, unlike a drunk who would drive up an exit ramp !! Either drug is deadly in its results !! Lucky for him I don't drink, don't smoke !! What do I do ??

Re:NOT GOOD !! POT AND DRIVING !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054245)

You lay off THE METH !! And maybe that will HELP !! you to make Slashdot posts that are CALMER !!

Drug and alcohol use and driving (2)

aclarke (307017) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054117)

I was pretty shocked at how high the (uncited) statistics were in the summary, of 16.3% having used alcohol or drugs, with "half them [sic] high on marijuana". I decided to do a very small amount of poking around myself, and came across http://www.ots.ca.gov/OTS_and_Traffic_Safety/Report_Card.asp [ca.gov]. It makes these two comments:

The first-ever “National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers”, conducted by NHTSA, found that 16.3 percent of nighttime drivers were drug-positive, with marijuana (THC) at (8.6 percent) being the most commonly detected drug.

and

In fall 2010, six cities in California (Anaheim, Bakersfield, Eureka, Fresno, San Rafael, and Torrance) conducted nighttime weekend “voluntary” roadside surveys primarily to gather data on marijuana use among nighttime drivers. The results were that 8.4 percent of the drivers providing oral fluid were positive for marijuana and 7.6 percent of the breath tested drivers tested positive for some amount of alcohol.

These are two different surveys, but the second one shows a slightly different picture than "half them high on marijuana". 8.4% in this study showed some presence of marijuana in their saliva. From the summary, I gather that all that really means is that 8.4% had smoked pot some time in the last couple weeks. 7.6% had had some amount of alcohol still detectable in their breath, although that includes people with a trace amount, well under the legal limit. So, I'm not going to adjust my general expectations of other drivers to think that one in every 6 drivers at night is drunk and/or high.

Re:Drug and alcohol use and driving (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054289)

It looks like they mean 16% of people pulled over were positive, not 16% of people on the road. You would expect a significantly higher amount of people pulled over to show as positive compared to the background rate.

The article contains inaccuracies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054135)

We have no roadside test to determine whether someone is impaired due to marijuana. The only tests currently available are blood tests and because police are not professional phlebotomists, they can't test your blood at the scene. Whether you are impaired and should be further tested requires judgement on the part of the police which can be very inaccurate. Additionally, we don't have an accepted standard on any test for indication of impairment. It doesn't matter how much marijuana consumed causes impairment, it matters what standard is used on a legally accepted test. Different jurisdictions are using different standards. As the article correctly states since marijuana residue can stay in body fluids far longer than the impairment, the mere presence of residue in body fluids does not indicate impairment. It just indicates past consumption.

Dangle a bag of cheetos in front of them (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054145)

If that doesn't work, try Doritos.

Why does legalization matter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054147)

They've been handing out DUIs for people under the influence of pot for years. How did this become an issue just because it's now legal? Does that mean that the old DUIs for pot are invalid since they had what is now a questionable metric as to the level of impairment?

There is plenty of raw data available for analysis (-1, Flamebait)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054149)

Just look at past traffic accident statistics downwind from Grateful Dead concerts.

Difficult (2)

magic maverick (2615475) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054151)

In some places (parts of Australia for example) the law simply says you aren't allowed to drive and have any trace of THC in your hair/saliva/blood. This works because the drug is already outlawed. However, it's not fair to say that the drug is legal, but you aren't allowed to use it within a week (or whatever) of driving.

However, as with alcohol, the problem isn't the numbers, it's the impairment. With alcohol now, the law doesn't even care about impairment. If your blood alcohol level (as measured by a machine testing the amount of alcohol in your breath[1]) is higher than X, that's illegal.

The solution is to obviously remove the numbers from the equation, and come up with a objective test for impairment. Walk along the line one foot placed just in front of the other, for example[2]. This would also apply to people who haven't got enough sleep recently.

Another option would be to simply outlaw driving dangerously or in a fashion that could cause harm to others. Then, for all the drunks and stoners, and people who just haven't slept properly in the last three days, if they can drive safely without swerving, or crashing, they can get home fine. But, if they swerve, then pull 'em over and book 'em. Perhaps.

A difficult situation. I just hope the solution doesn't reduce people's freedoms any more.

Footnotes:
1. Want to get busted without drinking more than a tiny amount of booze? Just before you breath into the machine, swill some whiskey around in your mouth. Just a tablespoon should be enough.
2. This isn't objective, because many people can't actually do this because their balance is poor, but they can still drive a care perfectly well.

marijuana? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054155)

Doesn't impair your driving, unless a bag of cheetos scurries across the road. These people need to determine whether or not being high affects you negatively. I mean, there are lots of drugs that make you drive better, maybe weed is one of them.

Consult your doctor if longer than 4 hours (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054173)

"Although the marijuana 'high' only lasts three to five hours..."

3-5 hours? Where the hell are you getting your drugs and may I please have the gentleman's number?

Faulty assumption (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054189)

The summary (and I am going to bet the article as well) makes a faulty assumption. It assumes that there is a way to measure some substance related to marijuana that correlates to level of impairment in the same way that blood alcohol level correlates to impairment with regards to alcohol consumption. There is at this time no evidence that such a substance exists.. Of course as an anonymous coward points out elsewhere in this thread there is a second faulty assumption in this article. That assumption is that someone who has THC in their system but is no longer high is no longer impaired (although it is possible that some of the tests I have seen on impairment from marijuana actually addressed this and I just did not look close enough).

Re:Faulty assumption (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054437)

I can personalty attest to building a tolerance to marijuana to the point of being normally functioning while stoned. That's why the medical marijuana users are the ones up in arms about the testing and limits. I'd totally take my driving test again stoned if it would allow me an exemption to testing.

Pot is very dangerous, and must be controlled (2)

0xdeadbeef (28836) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054201)

Driving within three hours of smoking pot is associated with a near doubling of the risk of fatal crashes.

Oh dear, that's almost as dangerous as dialing a phone [vt.edu].

Given how the police have broad surveillance powers to correlate cell phone logs against the mandatory GPS units installed in our cars in order to determine if we were dialing while driving, it is not unreasonable that we demand they have similar powers over knowing when pot smokers inhale their illicitly legal drug.

BAC BS (1)

LoRdTAW (99712) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054227)

Instead of worrying about tolerances and equivalent BAC levels, just come up with a field sobriety test that can detect if someone is too impaired to drive. The problem with a pot BAC is that people react differently to THC. One person might throw up and become stoned from a few good hits while another may feel little to noting at all from the same dose.

I have a friend who has two jobs, goes to school for his bachelors degree, has a wife and a new-born son. When I asked him how he copes he replied: "Copious amount of marijuana, bro." He smokes when he wakes up, smokes on his drive in to work, smokes during lunch, smokes on his way to night classes or his second job and a few hits at night before bed. Granted his case is unique, if I smoked as much as he does I would make a damn fine door stop. Then again I don't have his tolerance.

The cops have to be smart and throw the concept of BAC and breathalyzers out the window. They have to learn to spot the drivers who are legitimately too high to drive vs the veteran smoker who becomes superman juggling multiple jobs, school and a family while high.

Not quite true... (1)

pla (258480) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054231)

because that is the most prevalent drug, but we are not nearly to the point where we are with alcohol,' says Jeffrey P. Michael, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's impaired-driving director. 'We don't know what level of marijuana impairs a driver.'"

Sorry guys, but we don't know what level of alcohol actually makes people too impaired to safely drive, either. Yes, we have a hell of a lot better idea than with THC, but put bluntly, some people can function better at .015 than others can at .005 (I could use myself and my SO as an example of that).

That doesn't mean you'll catch me on the road at 0.015, or even at .005 - I don't drive after drinking any alcohol, legal or not; but we need to move beyond this convenient legal fiction that BAC defines level of impairment.

Perhaps the need to deal with pot will finally promote exactly that change, and we'll finally see a real test of impairment rather than the BS in use today.

I prefer high drivers over sober/tired/drunk (1)

ganjubas (2580251) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054235)

Those who can make it into the car and out of the parking lot are good enough to drive, it's my personal belief. I'm also more paranoid about keeping distance, speed and over 9000 more cautious while driving high, tested with other drivers - same results.

BAC not well correlated to performance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054267)

The use of Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) (easily measured & objective) as a stand-in for impairment began about 40-50 years ago to replace the "under the influence" or "while impaired" standards, which were subjective. People arrested under the "visibly impaired" kind of thing could and did go to court and argue that whatever field sobriety test the officer applied were subject to local problems (uneven road, weather, etc) or outright bias ("Son, you giving me attitude? I think you're impaired").

So they went to the AMA and asked "what BAC is impaired".. A committee at the AMA scratched their heads and said "I dunno, nobody's ever done a real study", and they picked a nice round number like 0.10 or 0.15.

The police and DA's loved it. Now, field sobriety tests provide a probable cause to stop someone, and the law in many states says that you, by having a license, have implied consent to a BAC test. They run the numbers, you go over the limit, and you're prima facie drunk, whether or not you are impaired. Note well, you can refuse the test, and get your license suspended, but then, they'd have to get the conviction on the basis of your actual performance, not the BAC: this is, I understand, quite difficult.

MADD forced the limits down, aided in part by the revenue enhancement possibilities, especially with roadside checkpoints (which can also catch all those illegal aliens).

Over the past 30-40 years, there has been some research on BAC vs performance, and it's a pretty wide range. There are alcoholics who function perfectly normally at a BAC of 0.15, where some people would have a tough time finding the keyhole to start the car.

The upshot is that maybe this will lead to some *real research*. I could easily see a suitable reaction/driving test apparatus which measures performance.

Then, of course, we'll have to deal with the problem that there are people who, stone cold sober, have terrible reactions and performance.

What's wrong with the standard sobriety test? (1)

SuseLover (996311) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054273)

What "threshold"? If pot really has such an impairment effect, then why not just use the standard sobriety test. Who cares about blood levels, etc. until it is determined that a driver is impaired in a real-world test. If they fail the test or caused an accident, then go on to determine the THC levels for evidence to back up the sobriety test.

I have met some very stoned people that you would be hard-pressed to figure out they were even high, much less so stoned that their dexterity/reflexes obviously suffered. It doesn't even seem to make much difference whether they smoked one joint or 5, being stoned is so much different than being drunk that you can't even compare the two states.

standard sobriety test is too objective (2)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054391)

What "threshold"? If pot really has such an impairment effect, then why not just use the standard sobriety test.

There is no impartial field (standard) sobriety test. It is up to the officer administering the test to both administer the test and interpret the results. It is very easy to skew or mangle this, on purpose or otherwise. When you have something that independently produces a number, you have an impartial result.

I'm calling Shenanigans here... (2)

Rooked_One (591287) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054287)

So number 1... which is all I really need, is how did they determine half the people pulled over were smoking cannabis? They say in the article they can't.

2 - the numbers are probably skewed in the way of cannabis because the US cannot lose any wars. And the war on drugs, is a war. So this is just a continuation of the scare tactics we've seen all too much.

3 - I know pharmacists. They say at least 50% of the population is on lortabs, percocets, etc... Stuff with hydrocodon and oxycodone. It could be easy to say, that chances are if you're reading this, you have a prescription.

Bottom line, the study is flawed and just a continuation of scare tactics IMVHO.

Re:I'm calling Shenanigans here... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054383)

It was half of the 16.3% impaired drivers, not half of all drivers.

I smoke weed every day (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054293)

and drive too. I have done so for over a decade. I've had no accidents. People need to know their own limits and the gov't should stay the fuck out.

Re:I smoke weed every day (1)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054415)

The problem is most people don't know what there limit is, if they did then drunk driving wouldn't be an issue because people would know when they're to drunk.

No Such Level (1)

Flipstylee (1932884) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054307)

You take a few puffs and you're high, maybe you take only one, but you're high just the same.

Through years of dealing with marijuana users (and having been one myself), I've not seen it to be
about the amount, but rather the quality. I've been amongst those to smoke for hours consecutively, and never get
as high as i was up until the first contact set in.

I have no links, anyone chime in here, these are my own
personal experiences.

I believe measuring this will be difficult, aside from looking for how red/closed/open the
individuals eyes are, yet different strains produce different affects...

This is all I've been asking for... (1, Insightful)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054333)

Every time I've been in a discussion on pot here on slashdot, this is what I have asked for - a standard and reproducible test for when someone has consumed too much. Strangely enough, it causes the pro-pot people to call me a fascist and the anti-drug people to call me a druggie.

I'm glad to know that there is so much room for a middle ground in slashdot political discussion...

Re:This is all I've been asking for... (0)

Hatta (162192) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054491)

It's called the field sobriety test. If you can't tell that someone has consumed too much, then they haven't consumed too much.

Wrong question (1)

gman003 (1693318) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054347)

I've always thought that laws regulating drunk driving based on blood alcohol content were missing the point. It's not driving with alcohol in your blood that causes problems, it's driving while your coordination, reaction time and judgement are impaired. Yes, the former causes the latter, but there's no universal amount - I know some people who can drive just fine after a beer or two, while I don't trust myself after just one.

What police should look at is more general sobriety tests. The stuff they used to do, like "recite the alphabet backwards" or "follow my finger with your eyes". Ideally they should be testing for exactly what should be criminalized - that is, coordination, reaction time and judgement. Not only does this work for all existing drugs, but it should work for basically any drug they ever invent.

What about prescription meds... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054367)

There are tons of other legal prescription medication that people take that will fuck them up more then pot when it comes to being able to drive a car. Are we stopping people for that?

Easy (1)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054405)

Just play some Bob Marley and offer them a tray of cookie, the lightly stoned person will refrain, the heavily stoned person will start singing and eating.

Why not punish poor driving (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054433)

I don't understand why we waste our time trying to figure out what might make someone drive a car poorly such as drinking, texting, eating, putting on make up, smoking pot, shooting up, etc. and instead just raise the stakes for those who commit traffic violations. If someone is swerving between lanes and unable to control the car, who cares what impairment they have, just get them off the road. If your simply unable to drive a car even when sober, you are more dangerous than a professorial race car driver that has had a couple of beers or a puff on a joint.

I don't understand how a sober driver can get in several wrecks and have speeding tickets and still be able to drive as long as they have a few "points" left, yet a DUI is an automatic loss of license in many states even if you were popped at a checkpoint and didn't even display any erratic driving.

smoked or eaten? (1)

CosaNostra Pizza Inc (1299163) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054477)

The effect varies, depending on whether it is smoked or eaten. I've heard the *high* and impairment effects last longer when its eaten. Jokingly, I'd say to test if a person is DUI, wave a bag or Doritos in front of their face and determine if the subject has cravings.

Simple solution, ban cars (1)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054483)

Ban cars and make people drive motorscycles instead, that will soon sort out the stoners, texters and drunks.

As someone who for a long time had to take serious pain medication, (50mg morphin shots), I knew that it was perfectly legal for me to take the drugs but it was also simply not done to drive or even to walk alone. Hallucinations, a general "wheee!" feeling just made it not safe.

Life is about choices and they ain't always fair. You want to smoke? You stand outside in the rain. You loose an eye, you loose your driver license. On pain med that can only be given by a doctor, you don't go in traffic alone.

Those who can't do this are simple the over entitled and you know the biggest problem with that? They feel entitled to EVERYTHING. They drive to fast, while stoned and drunk with to little sleep while texting but don't you DARE hold them accountable for accidents.

Agendas and Liars Go Together (2)

macs4all (973270) | about a year and a half ago | (#42054545)

Compare the following statements:

Driving within three hours of smoking pot is associated with a near doubling of the risk of fatal crashes.

with:

'We don't know what level of marijuana impairs a driver.'"

One of those two statements HAS to be a lie.

Personally, I have NEVER heard of a story where Marijuana "impairment" alone has been implicated as the causal factor in any traffic fatality.

And that "one week" figure is also completely bogus. Even a drugstore urine test can detect Marijuana use for around 30 days.

There have been no reputable studies that show that driving while high on pot is significantly more dangerous than driving while "sober". Any study of accidents where Marijuana use was also detected would be hard-pressed to find that the pot "impairment" was the cause. But watch the fake statistics start to pile in, by "scientists" looking for their next "Grant-Welfare" money, as the NIH helps the Federal Government "make the case against pot".

Mark my words.

Impaired in any sense = unacceptable. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42054575)

Would all you who claim that driving stoned is not dangerous like to
fly on an airliner which was being controlled by pilots who were stoned ?
I very much doubt it.

Driving on a public road is serious business and the lives of other people
are at stake. There are enough terrible drivers out there already, and
adding stoned drivers to this mix cannot possibly be anything but a bad idea.

Responsible ADULTS know that driving doesn't mix well with any kind of
"high". Altered consciousness means that the person whose consciousness
is altered is by definition NOT capable of performing an accurate self-evaluation.

If you are stoned and you cause a road accident which involves me, I will do my level
best to see to it that you are left penniless and homeless when I sue you. There will be no
mercy, and I will ruin your life to the best of my attorneys' abilities, which are considerable.

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