HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html 'Drugged Driving' Statutes Pushed
Pubdate: Sun, 21 Mar 2004
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2004 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Aparna H. Kumar, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)


Many States Wary of Federal Action

WASHINGTON - Citing estimates that 11 million people sometimes drive under 
the influence of illegal drugs, a growing chorus in Congress wants the 
government to do something about it.

The states are wary. Eight states have specific laws on "drugged driving," 
but their statutes are vague. None specifies an equivalent level to the 
0.08 percent blood content that Congress established as the legal level for 
alcohol impairment. That's partly because there's no roadside test to 
detect the presence of drugs in the body -- no handy "breathalyzer" as 
there is for alcohol. Even if blood or urine samples taken at a hospital 
test positive for drugs, there's no standard for how high is too high to drive.

"Zero tolerance" is the level some lawmakers want Congress to establish. A 
motorist found to have any controlled substance in his or her system would 
be considered unlawfully impaired.

"Everyone who drives is affected by this," said Representative Rob Portman, 
Republican of Ohio, citing a report last September by the Department of 
Health and Human Services estimating that during the previous year nearly 
11 million people drove at one time or another under the influence of 
drugs. The same survey said three times as many people, 33.5 million, drove 
under the influence of alcohol in 2002.

Portman introduced a bill last week that would create a model drug-impaired 
driving law for states to adopt to address what proponents say is a serious 
problem that has gone largely ignored.

Eight states have drug-impairment laws, according to the American 
Prosecutors Research Institute. They are Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, 
Illinois, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Utah.

"In every state of the country it's illegal for someone to drive under the 
influence of any drug or substance that may cause them to be impaired," 
said John Bobo, director of the National Traffic Law Center at the research 
institute. But in these eight states, it is "per se illegal" to have any 
detectable amount of a controlled substance in your system.

Under Portman's proposal, states that enact similar laws defining impaired 
as any detectible amount of drugs in a blood or urine sample would get 
money for training police and prosecutors and for driver counseling. They 
would also get grants to research field tests to measure motorists' drug 
levels. Rather than offering a carrot, Representative Jon Porter, 
Republican of Nevada, prefers the stick approach. His bill would make 
states that don't enact drug-impaired driving laws forfeit 1 percent of 
their annual federal highway funds to the National Highway Traffic Safety 
Administration. The amount forfeited would double each year up to 50 percent.

States are wary of both approaches, recalling that when incentives were not 
enough to persuade some of them to adopt the 0.08 blood alcohol limit for 
drunken driving, Congress in 2000 directed that up to 6 percent of their 
federal highway funds be taken away. Recalcitrant state legislatures fell 
quickly into line. "We believe that as a basic principle states need to 
enact laws that meet their own needs," said Cheye Calvo, a transportation 
policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway 
safety agencies, goes further, advising its members not to adopt 
drug-impaired driving laws for now. "There has been little to no evaluation 
as to their effectiveness," said spokesman Jonathan Adkins. "Most drivers 
who are drug impaired are also alcohol impaired, so police get 'em that 
way." Alcohol was linked to 41 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2002, 
resulting in 17,419 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic 
Safety Administration.
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