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AAA: Driver pot test shown to be invalid

From the Rutland Herald:

A report recently released by the American Automobile Association backs up what Vermont lawmakers heard during the debate over legalizing marijuana: There is no scientific way to prove if someone is under the influence of the drug while driving.

The AAA report looked at the states of Colorado, Washington and Montana, which all have thresholds in place for how much THC can be in someone’s system before they are considered to be under the influence. Those states established a threshold of five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

The report argues that the five nanograms threshold doesn’t work. After looking into the cases of drivers who were pulled over for DUI and had THC in their systems, AAA says a substantial number of those arrested would be misclassified as impaired and those who are actually impaired would not have been flagged by the test for THC.

The report looked into having thresholds from one nanogram to 10 nanograms of THC per milliliter, but it found no level of THC that would back up what police see while conducting field sobriety tests.

Those who frequently use marijuana can show high levels of THC despite not being impaired while occasional users will have the THC leave their system quickly, according to the report.

The report was put together by the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. That lab also gave the state the same results about not being able to scientifically prove someone is stoned when the state commissioned its own study last year.

Driving while on prescriptions a growing issue for police and the courts


As more doctors prescribe Xanax, Vicodin and Oxycodone, police are seeing a rise in more DWIs, not with driving under the influence of alcohol, but with drivers on legally obtained painkillers. According to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), statistics speak for themselves. Between 1997 and 2007, according to a University of Michigan study, treatment admissions for prescription painkillers increased more than 400 percent. The DEA said that between 2004 and 2008, the number of visits to hospital emergency departments involving the non-medical use of narcotic painkillers increased 111 percent. Area cops are reporting making more prescription medication-related DWI arrests and area lawyers are now vigorously defending those cases in court.

Posted: 10/14/2010 2:51:00 PM

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Results of the 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers

From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (pdf file):

Over the last four decades, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and/or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have conducted four national surveys to estimate the prevalence of drinking and driving in the U.S. These surveys utilized a stratified random sample of weekend nighttime drivers in the contiguous 48 States. The first National Roadside Survey (NRS) was conducted in 1973, followed by national surveys of alcohol use by drivers in 1986, 1996, and 2007.

The 2007 NRS included, for the first time, measures to estimate the use of other potentially impairing drugs by drivers. Prior roadside surveys had collected breath samples to determine blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Due to developments in analytic toxicology, NHTSA determined it would be feasible in the 2007 survey to collect oral fluid and/or blood samples to determine driver use of a wide variety of other potentially impairing drugs.

The 2007 NRS was designed to produce national estimates of alcohol and drug use by drivers. Thus, the use rates shown below are national prevalence rates calculated from the percentage of subjects using alcohol or drugs and adjusted with an appropriate weighting scheme.

Results of the 2007 Survey: Alcohol

The 2007 NRS found a dramatic decline (71%) in the number of drinking drivers with BACs at or above the current legal limit of 0.08 g/dL* on weekend nights compared to previous surveys. Similar declines were found at other BAC levels. For example, the percentage of drinking drivers (any positive BAC) declined almost as much over this time period, but one cannot infer impairment at very low BACs.

The percentage of male drivers with a BAC over the current legal limit of 0.08 g/dL was 42% higher than the percentage of female drivers with illegal BACs. Over 2% of the weekend nighttime drivers had illegal BACs (>0.08g/dL) while only 0.1% of daytime drivers had illegal BACs.

Time of day made a big difference in the likelihood of drivers having illegal BACs. Looking just at Friday daytime (9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.), early nighttime (10:00 p.m. to midnight), and late nighttime (1 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday), only 0.2% of drivers had illegal BACs during the daytime, while 1.2% had illegal BACs during the early nighttime and 4.8% had illegal BACs during the late nighttime.

Substantial differences were observed in the percentage of drivers with illegal BACs by vehicle type. Motorcycle riders were more than twice as likely as passenger car drivers to have had BACs > 0.08 g/dL (5.6% compared to 2.3%). Pickup truck drivers were the next most likely vehicle type to have illegal BACs (3.3%).

Underage drivers are of special interest since they have been shown to be a high risk of crash involvement when drinking and driving. The percentage of underage drivers in fatal crashes with a 0.08 g/dL or higher BAC decreased from 1973 to 1996. However, from 1996 to 2007, there has been a slight increase. The NRS data do not show this same trend; the percentage of underage drivers with 0.08 g/dL or higher BACs has been decreasing throughout this time period.

Results of the 2007 Survey: Drugs

Participants in the 2007 NRS were asked to provide an oral fluid and blood sample in addition to a breath sample. The oral fluid and blood samples were tested for the presence of a large number of potentially impairing drugs. The list of impairing drugs covered illegal, prescription, and over-the-counter products, including stimulants, sedatives, antidepressants, marijuana, and narcotic analgesics.

Based on the oral fluid results, more nighttime drivers (14.4%) were drug-positive then were daytime drivers (11.0%). Based on the blood test results which were administered only at nighttime, 13.8% of the drivers were drug-positive. Using the combined results of either or both oral fluid and blood tests, 16.3% of the nighttime drivers were drug-positive.

The most commonly detected drugs were Marijuana (THC) at 8.6%, Cocaine at 3.9%, and Methamphetamine at 1.3% of nighttime drivers.

The full significance of these findings for highway safety will only become clear when ongoing and additional research conducted by NHTSA and others is completed. NHTSA is responding to these findings with programs to enable law enforcement officers to recognize drug impairment, and education for prosecutors and judges on factors associated with drug-impaired driving cases.

Under the Drug Evaluation and Classification program, NHTSA has prepared nearly 1,000 instructors and trained more than 6,000 officers in 46 states. Officers receive extensive training to recognize symptoms of driver impairment by drugs other than alcohol.

NHTSA has also initiated a follow-on study to the 2007 NRS to identify which drugs are associated with higher crash risk. This case-control study will include in-depth investigations of a large number of crashes of all severities. The proportion of drug use by crash-involved drivers will be compared to that of a similar sample of non-crash involved drivers to determine if drug use is associated with crash involvement. Findings from this large-scale study are expected in 2012.

Posted: 7/22/2009 9:57:00 AM

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Training helping police better ID substances

From Cody Enterprise:

It’s been more than a year since Cody police officers underwent training in identifying the wide variety of impairing substances drivers use before taking the wheel, and police say it’s making a difference.

“There’s more of an awareness,” Sgt. Jason Stafford said. “It’s made our street officers more aware of what else is out there.”

Traditionally, DWUIs meant alcohol impairment, but increasingly police see drivers using everything from illegal drugs to prescription pills to household chemicals.

“Many people think DWUI is alcohol, but it’s any substance that impairs you,” Sgt. Stafford said.

For the third time in less than two years, a young driver apparently huffing “Dust-Off” cleaner caused major damage two weeks ago. Last month, a Cody woman was sent to prison after she took painkillers and caused a head-on collision, seriously injuring the other driver.

Stafford was among four officers - one for each shift plus one - who last year attended Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training in Laramie and Phoenix.

They practiced evaluation on volunteers in a holding cell and saw “many scary things,” such as the effects of using methamphetamine and heroine, Stafford said.

They learned to identify signs of impairment in drivers with a low blood alcohol content.

The DRE program is new to Wyoming but common in California, where it originated.

While it’s legal to buy Dust-Off, state law prohibits inhaling it, and using it and driving counts as a DWUI.

“If there’s two or three cans of Dust-Off or five bottles of cough syrup, that’s an indicator,” Stafford said.

Police now look for pill bottles, too, things they might have missed if they focused only on empty beer cans.

Posted: 6/17/2009 4:39:00 PM

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