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There is concern over an increase of drugged-driving fatalities

Posted by Craig Penrod | Feb 27, 2014 | 0 Comments

The number of drivers who are fatally-injured across the country that have tested positive for non-alcohol drugs has been steadily rising.

During the 12-year period starting in 1999 and ending at the conclusion of 2010, the number of drivers who tested positive for marijuana tripled. Marijuana is the most commonly detected non-alcohol drug and this increase may suggest that drugged-driving may be playing an increasing role in fatal motor vehicle collisions.

In Tempe, Phoenix or other communities in Maricopa County, it is important that you consult experienced Arizona lawyers regarding driving under the influence (DUI) like those associated with the Law Offices of Craig W. Penrod, P.C.

A study by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health reviewed toxicological testing data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System in order to understand these trends. The research team looked at 23,591 drivers who had died within one hour of the crash. They found that 39.7 percent tested positive for alcohol, while 24.8 percent tested positive for other drugs. The conclusion reached by researchers was that the alcohol-related deaths had remained stable and that the prevalence of non-alcohol drugs rose significantly, from 16.6 percent in 1999 to 28.3 percent in 2010. Focusing specifically on marijuana, fatality rates rose from 4.2 percent to 12.2 percent.

The study, published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology, is based on data collected from six states that routinely perform toxicological testing on drivers involved in fatal crashes. The six states are California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.

A recent article appearing in the New York Times pointed out that current systems of assessing driver impairment fall short when assessing cannabis use. It is important to realize that the level of THC-impairment can't be answered by obtaining a snapshot of THC-levels in a person's body. A true assessment of impairment requires knowing how drivers' actual motor-skill, attention and awareness and information processing are impacted by THC. A rough analogy to blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels is not appropriate.

Our society has become accustomed to the current scheme of preventing alcohol impairment. The result may be that society has unconsciously imported biases and assumptions into the way in which we assess levels of impairment.

The article appearing in the New York Times suggested that if a person is stopped by a law enforcement officer in order to investigate suspicions that a driver is intoxicated, the officer is likely to ask you to complete three tasks: "Follow a pen with your eyes while the officer moves it back and forth; get out of the car and walk nine steps, heel to toe, turn on one foot and go back; and stand on one leg for 30 seconds."

The standard field sobriety test (SFST) has been shown to catch 88 percent of persons who are DUI due to BAC levels in excess of 0.08 percent. However, the SFST is still being refined when it comes to spotting a stoned driver. The contrast between being intoxicated by alcohol and being under the influence of drugs resonates with many people. Also, many believe that law enforcement officers should be able to deter by identifying and punishing drivers whose level of cannabis-impairment is a threat to public safety.

At the present time Arizona is one of 20 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized medical marijuana use to some degree and 13 additional states are considering similar measures. This is an indication that public opinion is shifting. A troublesome of this situation is that legal users of medical marijuana are getting behind the wheel of a car. This troublesome because there are few reliable tests that may be used to determine if a person is actually intoxicated due to THC.

Most states, including Arizona, have made it illegal for a driver to have any trace of a drug in one's system while behind the wheel. With regard to marijuana, states are relying on blood and urine tests as a method for detecting THC in a person's system.

Unfortunately, urine testing that would be done after an accident or arrest only detects a chemical part of THC that remains in a person's body for days or weeks after they have has used marijuana. This finding does not correlate to whether or not a person is intoxicated. In fact, because THC is stored in fatty tissue and is processed slowly, regular users may have a very high THC content in their blood without actually being under the influence at all.

It is apparent that science must catch up with the needs of law enforcement officers when it comes to DUI due to drug usage and that more accurate measures are needed to determine whether someone was under the influence of marijuana at the time of a car crash.

It is important that your DUI legal situation should be handled by expert professionals with the experience possessed by the attorneys at the Law Offices of Craig W. Penrod, P.C. Our office offers free consultations for all DUI and criminal matters. Our Arizona DUI attorneys and Arizona criminal lawyers can provide you with the experience and knowledge needed for qualified representation. An experienced Arizona DUI lawyer is vital in DUI cases and our DUI attorneys set that standard. If you're in need of a criminal defense, our Arizona criminal attorneys are ready to assist you.

About the Author

Craig Penrod

Craig W. Penrod was born and raised in Arizona and has practiced criminal defense for over 30 years. Mr. Penrod is a member of the State Bar of Arizona, Maricopa County Bar Association, State of Nevada Bar Association, American Bar Association, American Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, Nevada Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

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