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Can Marijuana Impair Driving?

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Person Holding a Marijuana CigaretteMost people only talk about blood alcohol concentration (BAC) when it comes to DWI charges. However, alcohol is not the only culprit of driving impairment.

The New York Times recently published an article on the lack of attention that has been devoted to marijuana as a drug that impairs driving. When it comes to DWI charges, marijuana has taken the back seat, but this does not mean that it does not have its own dangers and legal consequences.

As the article points out, the standard field sobriety test is 88 percent effective at catching drivers under the influence of alcohol. It is not nearly as effective when it comes to catching a driver under the influence of marijuana. According to a 2012 study in Psychopharmacology, a staggering 70 percent of people under the influence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, passed the field sobriety tests. In another study, 50 percent of those who smoke less frequently passed the test as well.

The number of drivers impaired by marijuana who are going under the radar is disconcerting. Contrary to what some would believe, this drug puts the driver at an increased risk for an accident. Several researchers have come to the same conclusion: a driver with any measurable amount of THC in the bloodstream doubles his or her risk of having an accident. This is, however, low compared to the risks of driving under the influence of alcohol. A recent study showed that 20-year-old drivers with a BAC of 0.08 percent were 20 times more likely than sober drivers to get in a fatal accident. Drivers up to the age of 34 were nine times as likely to have an accident.

Such research is leading some experts to push for a crackdown on stoned drivers. However, this is not so simple. BAC levels are much easier to collect from roadside tests than blood-THC content, which often requires a urine or blood sample. These samples are often not taken until hours after an arrest—which can affect the results—and do not yield results until days or weeks later.

Until the advent of a more effective method for detecting THC blood levels, it is up to the driver to know that his or her risk for getting in an accident is increased by the consumption of marijuana.

It is important that drivers know that alcohol is not the only drug that can be lead to a DWI. If you have been charged with a DWI due to alcohol or drug impairment, contact an experienced New Orleans, LA DWI attorney right away.

Photo Credit: Torben Bjørn Hansen via Compfight cc

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About George Vourvoulias

George is a founding member and managing member of Harmon, Smith & Vourvoulias L.L.C., a New Orleans law firm. George concentrates his practice in maritime personal injury, construction litigation, personal injury, workers' compensation, medical malpractice, and DUI defense. George Vourvoulias's Google+ Profile

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