With the increasing legalization of marijuana in the Southwest and the summertime heat, Houston law enforcement officials continue to deal with increased driving accidents and fatalities. Throughout the U.S., journalists and lawyers post articles about the future of highway safety.
In Colorado, officials there say that deaths involving drivers testing positive for just marijuana increased 114 percent between 2006 and 2011, though overall traffic fatalities decreased. Texas does not separate drugged driving from drunken driving, so it is tough to determine the current impact of drugs on traffic safety. The concern is whether the general public understands that driving is the single most dangerous thing we do on a regular basis. Anything you do that changes your reaction times, perception, or reasoning ability is a threat to your safety and the safety of others.
Drug use, drinking alcohol, and even sleep deprivation can all contribute to traffic accidents. In Texas, traffic fatalities have trended upward over the last three years with 2,423 killed in auto accidents so far this year alone. Current drug tests requested by Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) do not measure for marijuana. The drug tests look for cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs. Marijuana screening is being added later this year according to DPS officials.
Marijuana is the Most Common Drug found in Houston Drug Testing
Currently, the 2,600 troopers who patrol Texas highways receive training on how to recognize whether drivers are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Additionally, The Chronicle article points out, 95 of the troopers and 346 Texas police officers are certified as “drug recognition experts,” after undergoing rigorous educational courses. While many of us think we know what to look for to identify drunk drivers, would we know what a marijuana-impaired driver looks like by comparison?
A Canadian study from last year found those who consume cannabis within three hours of driving are nearly twice as likely to cause an accident as those who are drug-or alcohol-free. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2007 National Roadside Survey of 10,000 drivers found 11.3 percent were positive for illegal drugs. The most common drug was marijuana, at 8.6 percent. THC can be present in urine up to a month after ingestion, so testing for marijuana impairment is not as simple as it may seem.
As the public acceptance of marijuana changes and more states legalize its use either recreationally or medically, more people may substitute pot for alcohol, and then make their way onto our roads. We are right to be concerned about the impact this could have on public safety. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is very specific that marijuana—even when provided for medical uses—is not appropriate for safety-sensitive positions involving getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. A notice on its website states, “The Department of Transportation’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation – 49 CFR Part 40, at 40.151(e) – does not authorize “medical marijuana” under a state law to be a valid medical explanation for a transportation employee’s positive drug test result.”
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