Recent Study Finds That California Drivers More Likely To Drive High Than Drunk

December 17, 2012
By Lauren Johnson on December 17, 2012 2:43 PM |

According to a recent survey conducted by the California Office of Traffic Safety, drunk drivers may not be the biggest problem facing law enforcement in patrolling the state's highways. The survey tested 1,300 drivers in nine California cities on Friday and Saturday nights, finding that fourteen percent were under the influence of drugs, while only approximately seven percent were under the influence of alcohol. Marijuana, found in 7.4 percent of drivers, was more common than 7.3 percent for alcohol, 4.6 percent for other illegal drugs, and 4.6 percent for prescription or over-the-counter medications.

A statement released by the Director of the Office of Traffic Safety, Christopher Murphy, opined that the study's "results reinforce our belief that driving after consuming potentially impairing drugs is a serious and growing problem." The press release continues, explaining that, likely due to the added expense of testing, driving under the influence of drugs is under-reported and under-recognized.

In response to this issue, the Office of Traffic Safety and the California Highway Patrol have been providing law enforcement with specialized training to detect and apprehend drug-impaired drivers. Further, District Attorney's offices in 20 counties have created "vertical prosecution" teams that follow drug-impaired driving cases from arrest through trial and the Regional Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutors are training District Attorney's on techniques to prosecute such cases.

Unfortunately, these new efforts might mean that even more community members in our area will unnecessarily face serious long-term challenges as a result of more aggressive criminal prosecutions.

Opponents of these new initiatives claim that, in at least some circumstances, driving under the influence of drugs is not as dangerous as driving drunk. Maia Szalavitz of Time Magazine recently wrote an article entitled "7% of California Drivers Test Positive for Marijuana, but Are They Impaired?" wherein she stated that, "Research suggests that stoned users on the road are not as impaired as those who drink alcohol are, and there is some evidence that those who use marijuana, particularly for medical purposes, may be staying off the roads anyway."

According to Szalavitz's article, there still remains a question as to whether individuals who have tested positive for marijuana remain under the effects of the drug at the time they are driving. A review of data performed by Canadian researchers found that driving within three hours of using marijuana was associated with a 92% increased risk of fatal or near-fatal accidents. However, even though Tetrahydrocannabinol ("THC"), the active ingredient of marijuana, can remain in blood and saliva a variable amount of time after use, the "high" only lasts three to five hours.


Attorney Lauren K. Johnson has extensive experience defending the rights of the accused in DUI cases, including those involving allegations of drug impairment. If you have been charged with DUI in California, contact Attorney Lauren K. Johnson today.