Legalized marijuana raises impaired driving issues

Drugged driving is on the rise, which is a matter of concern in light of Ohio's recent push to legalize marijuana.

Fatal car accidents caused by drunk drivers have been in decline, both in Ohio and throughout the nation. Unfortunately, the improvements seen in terms of drunk driving are being offset - at least in part - by a growing incidence of drugged driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. With the legalized marijuana movement gaining steam in Ohio, questions about the drug's potential impact on traffic safety are increasingly relevant.

Testing for marijuana impairment can be tricky

When it comes to alcohol consumption, determining when a person is too impaired to drive is a fairly straightforward process. The human body absorbs and eliminates alcohol relatively quickly and predictably, which means that chemical testing of a driver's breath, blood or urine provides a reliable indicator of recent alcohol consumption. As a result, it is possible to have a clear-cut threshold at which driving is impermissible; in Ohio, and throughout the United States, that line is set at a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08.

In contrast, determining when someone is too high on marijuana to drive safely is a more complicated matter. Although Ohio and some other states have laws that establish precise chemical thresholds for marijuana and its metabolites in a driver's bodily fluids, this method of drugged driving enforcement has drawn criticism for being potentially unreliable. This is because the body eliminates marijuana much more slowly than it does alcohol, making it difficult to determine through blood or urine testing how recently a person has used the drug and whether he or she is still under the influence.

Ohio researchers announce breakthrough

Recently, researchers from the University of Akron announced that they have produced a new device that they hope will enable police to test suspected drugged drivers for marijuana impairment in a fast and reliable manner. Instead of using blood or urine samples, which are costly and time consuming to collect and process, the new device uses a saliva sample and produces results nearly immediately.

Because it is portable and fast, the saliva testing system, known as the Cannibuster, can potentially be used by police during traffic stops or at crash scenes in much the same way as Breathalyzers are used to test for alcohol impairment. Furthermore, because research has shown that saliva testing is sensitive to recent marijuana use rather than that which occurred days or weeks in the past, this method may prove to be a more reliable method of determining when a driver is high on marijuana.

The Cannibuster marijuana testing device is still in development, but Fox News reports that it has already received several awards that are expected to aid in its real-world implementation. Field studies involving up to 50 of the devices could be underway by the end of 2015, and thousands more may be put into use in the months and years to come.

Crash victims have legal options

People who are injured by impaired drivers in Ohio are often able to recover financial compensation for their injuries, lost income, medical expenses and other losses by pursuing a personal injury claim. If you or a family member has been seriously hurt in a crash, contact the personal injury lawyers at Elk & Elk to discuss the details of your situation and learn more about your options.

Keywords: marijuana impairment, impaired driving issues, blood alcohol content (BAC), Cannibuster, drugged drivers, Crash victims, medical expenses, traffic stops