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Report raises concerns about "drugged" driving

The effects of alcohol on a person's ability to operate an automobile are well known, but the effects of various drugs, including marijuana and pain killers, are not well understood. A new report from the Governors' Highway Safety Association, a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., casts new light on the problem of "drugged" driving and calls for more education and increased study and research into the problem.

Pennsylvania's DUI laws define intoxication by setting an upper level of alcohol in a person's blood stream. The limit is 0.08 percent; if the blood alcohol content level (BAC) is higher, a person is deemed to be intoxicated. No similar limit exists for marijuana or other drugs. Part of the problem is the fact that the body's rate of absorption for drugs is far different from alcohol. The presence of marijuana is detected by finding a chemical known as THC, the component that causes impairment, but no data exist that establish a correlation between THC levels and the level of intoxication. Some states, including Pennsylvania, have a zero tolerance policy for marijuana, while others have set arbitrary limits that have no scientific basis.

The Governors' report noted that nearly 40% of drivers involved in fatal accidents had drugs in their system, and about one-third tested positive for marijuana. Unfortunately, the effects of the drugs have not been scientifically established. Most researchers have concluded that marijuana impairs psychomotor sill, ability to concentrate, lane tracking and cognitive functions, but no one has clearly established the role of marijuana in contributing to automobile accidents.

Anyone who is charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana can benefit by consulting an attorney who specializes in defending drunk driving cases. Such a consultation can provide an evaluation of the circumstances of the alleged crime, suggested defense strategies, and an estimate of the likelihood of reaching a favorable plea agreement or obtaining an outright acquittal.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Report raises concerns about driving while on drugs," Jon Schmitz, Sep. 30, 2015

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