Drugged Driving: How Is California Combating the Problem?


Drugged Driving Laws

Drugged driving is a dangerous practice, and the California Office of Traffic Safety reported that three drivers out of ten who were killed in fatal wrecks in the state had drugs in their system when the accident occurred. Unlike drunk driving, it can be difficult to determine when a driver is under the influence of drugs, explains a California car accident attorney.

When a driver has consumed alcohol, a blood alcohol content (BAC) test can be performed in order to determine if he or she is intoxicated. If the driver is above the legal limit of .08, then he or she is presumed guilty of drunk driving. When a person has consumed drugs, however, things become much more complicated.

Drugs can stay in a person’s system for a long time after they’ve initially been consumed. For example, cannabis can show up for around two weeks in a blood test or for between seven and thirty days in urine. Cocaine can stay for one to two days in the blood and for three to four days in urine. Methadone can stay in the blood for twenty-four to thirty-six hours or in the urine for three to four days. Legal drugs, including sleeping pills, can also show up in the blood and the urine for hours or days.

Drugged driving laws are intended only to punish those who are impaired by a drug at the time when they are driving. Therefore, a person who took marijuana two days before being pulled over shouldn’t be arrested for driving under the influence. This raises the question of how exactly it should be proven that someone is on drugs when behind the wheel.

In one court in Arizona, it appears the state addressed this issue by essentially deciding to ignore the fact that drugs can stay in the system for a long time after they have been taken. On February 13, 2013, ABC 15 news reported that an Arizona court ruled that drivers could continue to be prosecuted for driving under the influence of marijuana even if the only evidence against the driver was the fact that his or her blood test was positive for marijuana.

This ruling overturned the decision made by a lower court judge who had indicated that it did not make sense to prosecute someone without evidence that he or she was under the influence while driving. The appellate court judge, however, said that DUI laws are intended to protect the public and thus should be enforced broadly.

Because driving under the influence remains a criminal charge in Arizona, the prosecutor would still need to prove that the defendant was driving while impaired in order to obtain a conviction in a drugged driving case.

California Drugged Driving Laws

California, like Arizona, recently grappled with the issue of blood tests and drugged driving. The state updated its drugged driving laws, which will go into effect on January 1, 2014. When the legislation was initially proposed, it contained the following language:

“This bill would make it a crime for a person who has any level of
cannabinoids or synthetic cannabinoid compound, as defined, in his or
her blood or urine to drive a vehicle. This bill would establish a
rebuttable presumption that a person had cannabinoids or synthetic
cannabinoid compound in his or her blood or urine at the time he or
she drove a vehicle if the substance is present in his or her blood
or urine at the time of a chemical test performed within three hours
after driving.”

This would have essentially expanded the penalties of drugged driving laws. A person pulled over who was given a blood or urine test and who tested positive for marijuana would have faced penalties, even if he or she was not high when driving. This was not the original intent of drugged driving laws, which was to make sure people did not drive when impaired.

Due to strong opposition, this language was removed. California ended up updating its law by establishing a separate drugged driving offense distinct from drunk driving, making California one of only three states that separates the offenses. This is an important change as the state will better be able to track drugged driving and to prosecute the offense.

More than 700 police officers in California have also been trained in detection of drugged drivers. Law enforcement testimony on observed behavior at the time when a drugged driver is pulled over can be the most solid proof that the driver was high at the time of driving, and those officers who have received special training in detecting impairment are recognized as Drug Recognition Experts.

Additional information on this and other transportation safety issues is available to the public free of charge through our Preferred Friends and Clients Program.

If you would like to request a free book or article, or to speak with a California car accident attorney, feel free to call 1-888-834 5055.

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