Monday, December 1, 2014


Marijuana users beware, researchers at Washington State University are working on a breathalizer that can detect THC on a person's breath. 

Stoned drivers have become an increasing concern since Washington voters legalized recreational use of marijuana in 2012. A quarter of blood samples taken from drivers in 2013, the first full year the initiative was in effect, came back positive for pot.

There is very little in the way of research that allows anyone to determine levels of impairment related to cannabis and driving ability. What is known is that users are showing up in more and more fatal accidents. 

The Criminal Code of Canada first prohibited drug impaired driving in 1925.

Surveys in Canada have shown that over one-half of the kids that are using cannabis do so in cars and during school hours. Studies done in British Columbia indicate that 12 per cent to 14 per cent of the drivers involved fatal motor vehicle accidents had cannabis in their systems. 

I know lots of people who would never get behind the wheel after two beer but do not think twice about driving stoned. Epidemiology data from road traffic arrests and fatalities indicate that after alcohol, marijuana is the most frequently detected psychoactive substance among driving populations. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Association in the United States says "Marijuana has been shown to impair performance on driving simulator tasks and on open and closed driving courses for up to approximately 3 hours. Decreased car handling performance, increased reaction times, impaired time and distance estimation, inability to maintain headway, lateral travel, subjective sleepiness, motor incoordination, and impaired sustained vigilance have all been reported". 

The greater the demands placed on the driver, however, the more critical the likely impairment. Marijuana may particularly impair monotonous and prolonged driving. Decision times to evaluate situations and determine appropriate responses increase. Mixing alcohol and marijuana may dramatically produce effects greater than either drug on its own.

Some drivers may actually be able to improve performance for brief periods by overcompensating for self-perceived impairment. 

 MADD Canada National President Angeliki Souranis says  "Drug-impaired driving has become a much larger part of the overall impaired driving in problem in Canada over the past several years but when we look at the impaired driving charges laid, just a small fraction are for drug-impairment." 

 Do we need an improved system of drug-impaired driving detection? Should be based on roadside screening tests for suspected impaired drivers and the establishment of a set of drug level limits for drivers? Should it be zero tolerance as marijuana use is illegal? What about prescription drug users that are on the roads everyday and impaired to some extent?

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