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Drugged driving laws lag behind legalized marijuana movement

For the first time in three legislative sessions, lawmakers in California are not considering any proposals to toughen the state’s marijuana-impaired driving laws. Although driving while stoned is already against the law in California, determining which drivers are too high to get behind the wheel is proving to be less straightforward than making the same determination with regard to alcohol impairment.

A matter of timing

In cases of suspected drunk driving, chemical testing of a blood or breath sample provides a relatively reliable way of determining whether a driver is under the influence. As a person becomes more intoxicated, his or her blood alcohol content (BAC) levels rise, and those levels fall again as the person sobers up.

In contrast, marijuana metabolites are eliminated more slowly from the body and can remain detectable in the bloodstream for several days after the drug’s intoxicating effects have worn off. This means that a person who tests positive for marijuana use may not actually be high at the time the test was administered. Previous attempts to criminalize stoned driving based solely on THC levels have been met with vocal criticism from activists who point out that such a law could have the effect of penalizing sober drivers who had used marijuana hours, days or even weeks earlier.

A quest for more reliable testing

This does not mean, however, that stoned driving is safe – only that existing chemical tests may not be the most practical or effective way to determine whether a driver is actually impaired. Some say a better way to target stoned drivers is to develop roadside testing that can be used to determine impairment in drivers suspected of being under the influence of marijuana.

A recent study revealed one potential solution to the problem: saliva testing. Unlike urinalysis, saliva testing is only sensitive to recent marijuana use, according to a report published recently in the Journal of Analytic Toxicology. Saliva testing also has the advantage of being quick and easy to administer during a traffic stop, without the need for the driver to be transferred to a separate testing facility as is required for urinalysis. It remains to be seen, however, whether oral swab test kits will be practical and affordable on a large scale.

Drugged drivers are liable to crash victims

Just like drivers who are drunk or impaired by other drugs such as cocaine or prescription painkillers, people who cause traffic accidents while driving under the influence of marijuana can be held legally and financially responsible for the damage that they cause.

If you or a family member has been hurt in a crash with a drunk or drugged driver in California, get in touch with an experienced personal injury lawyer to learn about your rights and how to protect them. Depending on the unique circumstances of your case, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries, lost income, medical bills and more.

Our founding attorney, Scott J. Corwin, has more than 30 years of experience in representing  Car Accident Victims injured in  in the Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, San Diego, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and throughout the state of California.