How Can We Tell Who's Too High To Drive?
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Who’s Too High To Drive?

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This post was originally published on August 12, 2014.

Those pro and con legalization excel at making the same facts fit their argument as easily as funneling cookies into one’s mouth fits with smoking pot. See, the Washington Post wrote that the fact that Colorado’s highway fatalities have reached an all-time low is related to the state’s legalization of marijuana in 2012. And well, a recent article in The Daily Signal isn’t having that. Readers are urged to draw their own conclusions and are presented with what the author, who is admittedly against cannabis legalization, deems to be relevant data—a peer-reviewed study and “another thorough study set” that will allegedly be released this week—showing that there has actually been an increase in marijuana-related traffic fatalities in Colorado since 2009 (although this is also during the growing popularity of the iPhone, a device notoriously hard to text and drive on). Even after following the cited links, it’s hard to make sense of it all. What I do know is, since the legalization of medical marijuana in California, traffic (and the people in it) seems to be at an all time high.

There Is No Breathalyzer for Weed

I don’t know much about the technical physiological impairments that are caused by THC intoxication and how these compare to the ones caused by alcohol; what I do know is, I have driven drunk and I have driven stoned (and I have driven drunk and stoned) and neither one felt safe. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t want to be on the road with me when I am hopped on too many resentments either. But when it comes to operating a motor vehicle, regulating THC impairment is much trickier than alcohol (not sure about measuring venom of hatred) and presents complications. For instance, field sobriety tests, like the ones given for suspicion of drunk driving, only proved 30% effective for those high on weed, according to a 2012 study. Oral fluid tests, which can also be administered roadside, are effective in indicating marijuana use but cast a wide net, proving only that the person used pot within the last few days. The most accurate test for THC impairment is a blood test, which requires a trip down to the station, but even that isn’t a perfect science. Since individuals metabolize drugs differently, even a blood test may show that a person is over the legal limit for THC, which is Colorado is five nanograms or more, even if they haven’t smoked pot that day. So I guess the question is, should that matter?

It certainly doesn’t sound fair that someone should have to worry about the joint they smoked last night when getting behind the wheel the next day. I’ll admit that, between 1995-1999, I spent the majority of mornings driving to work still somewhat intoxicated from the night before (and several near accidents occurred as a result). It can be very tricky to drink coffee, smoke a cigarette, look for toll change and operate a stick shift while towing the line between drunk and hungover. But since at least three hours of sleep came between me and my last beer, it never occurred to me that I might be a candidate for a DUI (and truthfully, in Boston in the 90s, I probably wouldn’t have been). But blood tests aside, shouldn’t a field sobriety test—which measures response time, coordination and reflexes—be enough to determine whether someone is fit to drive?

Better Stoned and Safe Than Stoned and Sorry

An article in The News Wheel offers some tips to people who are thinking about driving home after having had a few drinks. While some of these may seem bit unrealistic given the circumstances, like asking yourself if you have had more than one drink an hour (because if you can actually recall that information, let alone whip out an online calculator or app to tally it up, as far as I am concerned, you are probably still in good shape). Although super geeky, I suppose these tips might work for “normal” people who might actually have had one too many and are concerned with being okay to drive. But for heavy or problem drinkers (and active alcoholics), these ideas for measuring sobriety are a cute joke. However, for pot smokers (who are usually on the dorkier side anyway) conducting a field sobriety test, which involves Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, Walk-and-Turn and One-Leg Stand, could help you determine if a Lyft is in order. Although I can’t say I have ever heard of someone taking a cab home because they felt like they were too stoned to drive, the changing pot laws indicate that cannabis affascinatos may want to start seriously considering it.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.