Since passing Proposition 64, legalizing recreational marijuana use for those over 21 in California, there has been an increased awareness of the dangers posed by high drivers. As the state works to adapt to this recent change, there has been controversy on the correct way to deal with high drivers, especially opposed to drunk drivers. There is a common belief among Burlingame students that driving high is significantly safer than driving drunk.
“I think that they’re both very dangerous but driving drunk is a little bit more dangerous because it’s a more extreme difference from your natural state,” sophomore Annie Johnson said.
There is evidence that drivers under the influence of alcohol are ten times more likely to cause a fatal accident than a driver under the influence of marijuana. However, even though driving under the influence of marijuana may be safer than driving drunk, driving high still leads to numerous accidents and fatalities. Law enforcement wishes to stop the spread of the myth that stoned driving is safe driving.
“I believe marijuana and alcohol both impair driving and one doesn’t outweigh the other,” Burlingame Police Officer Garrett Pene said. “They are both ‘downers’ so your reaction time will be reduced as well as physical coordination.”
Indicators of an altered or negligent driver consist of driving without headlights on, swerving, inability to maintain a lane, not using a blinker, and most frequently, speeding. After pulling over a suspected driver, the initial sign that alerts police officers of consumption is the strong odor of marijuana, or evidence of smoke in the car. Then, police officers will check the driver for signs of bloodshot, squinty, or glassy eyes.
“There is a saying in DUI investigations which is the eyes never lie,” Pene said.
The current tests to identify if a driver is high are all physical tests, and are unable to scientifically measure the levels of THC in your system, as a breathalyzer does with alcohol. Police officers are trained to identify physical indicators of marijuana use, and can use simple observation to check if a driver is high. People under the influence of marijuana tend to have higher blood pressure and a higher temperature, both of which can be checked by law enforcement. Still, there is no machine that can precisely gauge THC levels at time of arrest.
“What we do is run them through a series of tests,” Pene said. “We check the eyes, we’ll check their estimation of time, which is called the Romberg test, and then we’ll do a series of balancing tests where you’ll walk a line, raise a leg, and we’ll also do coordination tests.”
Since Prop. 64 passed the legalization of recreational marijuana use, law enforcement has been trying to catch up in creating technology that can accurately determine a person’s marijuana intoxication, at the time of driving. Because of the concern that high drivers are such a danger to others sharing the road, there is a pressure to perfect such a device.
“Law enforcement is always late to the game in terms of technology,” Pene said. While Burlingame Police don’t have access to experimental devices that can identify marijuana levels in drivers, law enforcement in areas like Los Angeles have started exploring mouth-swab technology that can identify drug use in drivers.
Devices such as the Drager Drugtest 5000 can detect use of illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines and methadone with an eight minute test using only a swab from the inside of a person’s mouth.
Since THC is a fat-soluble substance, marijuana use can be detected by saliva tests from 24 to 72 hours after consumption. THC can also be detected by a urine test for over 8 days after consumption and by blood test for over 24 hours, varying on dosages and a person’s metabolism. If a driver is brought in under reasonable suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana, law enforcement obtains a blood or urine sample from the individual which is then tested at the crime lab, and the level of THC is measured.
The ranges of penalties for an underage driver convicted of a DUI vary. These penalties include suspension of license, impoundment of motor vehicle, jail time up to several years, community service, attendance of a DUI school, fines with a max of several thousand dollars, probation, and juvenile detention.