Weed and Driving Okay?

DUI Stoned Driver

False Advertising?

If you want to avoid a car crash, trade a joint for that glass of wine. A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that drivers who used marijuana were at a significantly lower risk for a crash than drivers who used alcohol. After adjusting for age, gender, race and alcohol use, drivers with marijuana in their system were at about the same level of accident risk as those who had not used any drugs or alcohol prior to driving. Apparently, weed and driving are okay.

Interestingly enough antidepressants, pain killers, stimulants and quite a few other legal and illegal drugs do not significantly increase the risk of being in a crash. Alcohol use greatly increases the likelihood of an accident even at modest blood concentrations. In fact, a blood alcohol concentration over 0.05 increases your odds of a wreck nearly seven fold.

The study’s findings underscore an important point: The measurable presence of THC (marijuana’s primary active ingredient) in a person’s system doesn’t correlate with impairment in the same way that blood alcohol concentration does.

The NHTSA study points out that “At the current time, specific drug concentration levels cannot be reliably equated with a specific degree of driver impairment.” There are many reasons why detectable drug presence doesn’t indicate impairment the way it does with alcohol. Most psychoactive drugs are chemically complex molecules whose absorption, action and elimination from the body are difficult to predict. Also, there are considerable differences that exist between individuals with regard to the rates with which these processes occur. Alcohol is more predictable. In heavy marijuana users, measurable amount of THC can be detected in the body days and even weeks after the last use, and long after any psychoactive effects remain. Washington Initiative 502, passed in 2012, set a legal limit at which the driver is automatically determined to be impaired at 5 of nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood. However, this number tells us nothing about whether a person is impaired or fit to drive.

Weed DUI Breath Test On The Horizon

Weed Preliminary Breath Test

Researchers are close to fielding a new breath tester for Marijuana – The new device is not shown above.

Research at WSU has led to the development of a portable breath test to detect marijuana DUI. Drivers under the influence of marijuana have become an increased concern since Washington voters legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2012. A quarter of blood samples taken from drivers in 2013, the first full year the initiative was in effect, came back positive for marijuana.

WSU chemistry professor Herbert Hill and WSU doctoral student Jessica Tufariello are working on a handheld device that uses a technique called ion mobility spectrometry to detect THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, on a person’s breath. Currently, officers and prosecutors rely on a blood test to determine the amount of THC present in a driver’s blood. These blood results are not immediately available to patrol officers who suspect a person of driving while impaired. An experienced Tacoma DUI Attorney can attack weed dui breath tests when they become available.

Initiative 502 set 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood as the legal limit at which a driver is automatically determined to be impaired. Initially, the marijuana breath test under development at WSU probably won’t be able to pinpoint the level of THC in the body; it will only tell officers that some THC is present. It is believed that this would be a helpful tool to officers as they decide whether to arrest a suspected impaired driver. However, since no numerical value is obtained with this test, a positive result is sure to result in an arrest.