The holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day is a busy time for festivities and for travel. Often times the festivities will include dining, drinking, and sometimes smoking. This can become a problem when people drive to parties and events, then have to drive home. Police departments will step up drunk driver enforcement during the holiday season, but now because of the change in marijuana laws, police enforcement will focus more than just on drivers who drink.
According to a recent survey by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, over 40 percent of the sampled drivers, who have used marijuana within the last year, said they have driven a car within 2 hours or less after using marijuana. The analysis was conducted through roadside surveys which were conducted to determine the effects of marijuana legalization on the numbers of marijuana positive drivers on the state's roadways. The surveys were conducted statewide in June of 2014.
While the holidays often bring increased police scrutiny, this report has brought added attention to the issue of drivers using marijuana. Across the state, police patrols will be increasing their patrols looking for those driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol and drugs, including marijuana. Police in Yakima and Klickitat counties have announce they will be partnering with Washington State Patrol (WSP) from now until the first of January to get impaired drivers off the road. Throughout King County, including Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, and Seattle, local police departments, the State Liquor Control Board and WSP will also step up patrolling measures.
A total of 900 drivers were voluntarily sampled, including oral fluid samples from 150 drivers to test for drugs or alcohol in the system. The vehicles were randomly selected and drivers asked to participate. A surprisingly high number of people offered to participate, (98% of those eligible). Of those questioned, almost 70 percent said they had used marijuana at least once. 44 percent of those who had used marijuana within the last year, had used marijuana within two hours of driving. A majority of those said they did not think their recent marijuana use made any difference in their driving, with some thinking it made their driving better.
The Washington State Department of Transportation's Target Zero plan aims to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries. Target Zero Manager Camille Becker finds the survey results troubling. “To say I'm a better driver when I'm high, is scary,” said Becker. She said that driving high can impair a driver's decision-making ability. From now, through the New Years, police across the state will be adding additional patrol units to crack down on all types of DUIs.
There is an obvious disparity between those who say marijuana does not affect their ability to drive, and the official position that driving high is dangerous. However, the current law allows for charging a driver with a DUI if they have a sufficient level of THC in the body (5.00 nanograms per milliliter of blood). The best advice for enjoying the happy holidays is to keep off the road until you've sobered up, and make sure you have the number for a good, local DUI attorney.