Drunk drivers continue to pose a serious threat to Florida drivers. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, over 5,000 accidents in 2016 involved a drunk driver. Of the 5,223 accidents, 417 involved a fatality. In all, there were 461 alcohol confirmed fatalities that year.
While there are mounds of scientific research showing how alcohol turns deadly when an intoxicated driver hits the road, not nearly as much information exists regarding drivers under the influence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that causes psychoactive effects. Still, there is enough evidence to show that drivers who are high endanger those around them.
Why is there worry about stoned drivers?
With more states legalizing medicinal and recreational cannabis, it stands to reason that a greater number of people — many whom rely upon their personal vehicles for transportation — will use the drug. Drivers who use marijuana present a problem that police cannot detect. Field sobriety tests and breathalyzers are ineffective when used to identify drivers under the influence of weed.
Field sobriety tests have been shown to catch 88% of intoxicated drivers who used alcohol; however, they were not designed to catch stoned drivers. According to The Seattle Times, a study published in the journal Psychopharmacology in 2012 showed that field sobriety tests caught just 30 percent of all drivers under the influence of THC. The ability of these tests to accurately identify a stoned driver depends heavily on whether the driver is new to marijuana or is used to being stoned.
Behavioral Differences between Stoned and Drunk Drivers
Drunk drivers and stoned drivers act differently. A 21-year-old who has just spent his first night of heavy drinking and an long-time alcoholic will both exhibit a loss of coordination during a field sobriety test, while a driver who smoked his first marijuana cigarette and one who is high every day of the week will likely act differently. In this scenario, it is more likely that the inexperienced marijuana user will fail the field sobriety test.
Stoned drivers pose less of a threat than drunk drivers. Some researchers believe that the limited resources available to law enforcement for catching dangerous drivers should continue to be used to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road.
Deficits of a Marijuana User vs. a Drunk Driver
When comparing the driving abilities of stoned and drunk drivers, it becomes apparent that THC does not impair a person’s driving ability to the same extent as alcohol.
- Drunk drivers overestimate their driving abilities and drive faster than usual
- Marijuana users drive slower than usual because they are aware they may be impaired
- In a lab environment, people who were high passed simple memory and math tests; drunk people were more likely to fail these tests
- Stoned drivers have a slower reaction time to unexpected changes in driving conditions
- Stoned drivers have a twofold increase in their risk of becoming involved in an accident with any measurable amount of THC in the bloodstream, while a 20-year-old driver with a BAC of 0.08% has an almost twentyfold increase
Currently, there is no efficient nor effective way of gauging a driver’s level of THC intoxication. The only way to measure THC is through a urine or blood test, which can happen hours after the traffic stop. Urine tests detect a metabolite of THC and can return a positive result days or weeks later. It’s far more complicated to measure a person’s THC level at the time of the stop than it is to check his or her BAC.
Due to the effects of alcohol being far more dangerous than those of THC, many experts believe public resources should continue combatting drunk driving, while the laws of states that permit marijuana use should discourage people from smoking and then driving. For example, laws can be written to ban pot bars that encourage people to smoke outside of the safety of their house.
Fight your Alcohol or Drug DUI in West Palm Beach
Attorney Brian Gabriel of The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel holds over 30 years of experience fighting DUI charges throughout Palm Beach and surrounding counties. He has dedicated years of his career as a criminal defense attorney to exposing the flaws of the Intoxilyzer 8000 — the breath test whose results are approved to be used as evidence in court throughout the state.