In all 50 states, the legal blood alcohol limit (BAC) for anyone operating a motor vehicle is .08, though advocates continue pressuring legislators to bring it down to a .05 BAC.
Public awareness campaigns, new laws and stricter penalties regarding DUI violators were launched in the mid 1970s.
The original campaigns highlighted the gruesome realities of drunk driving, changed society’s perspective, and gradually brought the number of fatalities down.
In 2018, however, the legalization of recreational marijuana in many states, including California, as well as “driverless” technology in some of the latest, high-end cars, are complicating the problem.
“As has been the case in other states like Colorado and Washington, we fully expect to an increase in crashes due to marijuana usage,” Rhonda Craft, CHP Director of the Office of Traffic Safety, told CBS News affiliate in Los Angeles.
The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported some of the following statistics:
- Nearly 21 million people, aged 16 and over, drove while under the influence of alcohol
- Almost 12 million operated a vehicle while under the influence of illicit drugs, including marijuana
- Men are more likely to drive while under the influence
- But young adults, aged 18 to 25, are the group most likely to get behind the wheel after taking drugs, consuming alcohol or a combination of both
Driving While High on Marijuana
One reason there are fewer charges – right now – for driving under the influence of marijuana is that violators often have alcohol in their system as well. So, officers have enough evidence to charge a person with DUI.
Second, there isn’t yet a dependable roadside testing device for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. It won’t be long, however, before THC breathalyzer technology catches up to stoned drivers.
At UC San Diego’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, Director Tom Marcotte is working to solve this problem for law enforcement and the safety of all drivers.
“The ultimate outcome is to see whether or not we can really help law enforcement separate those people who are impaired due to cannabis and those people who may have cannabis in their system and are not impaired,” he told the L.A. CBS News affiliate.
There are now “Drive High, Get a DUI” public service campaigns and commercials in many states where recreational marijuana is legal. Some of these make the point through humor while others offer a more serious and sobering message.
Will Self-Driving Cars Reduce Drunk Driving?
While highway patrol and scientists work to solve drug-impaired-driving, fully autonomous vehicles are just on the roadside horizon. The technology, though, is not here yet and will not serve as a “get out of jail free” card.
Several models of vehicles are rolling off the line with features close to driverless cars. For instance, some Tesla’s come with “autopilot,” while some Cadillac’s come with “super cruise.” In both cases, drivers must have their hands on the wheel in order for the systems work or the vehicle will come to a complete stop.
As obvious at it might seem, it’s critical to note that getting behind the while under the influence drugs or alcohol, driverless technology or not, is highly illegal and dangerous.
Earlier this year, a Bay Area Tesla owner found this out the hard way, after police found him asleep at the wheel while in traffic on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
According to California Highway Patrol, the driver’s defense was that his car was on “autopilot.” CHP didn’t seem to care. They arrested the driver and tweeted about the incident.
In the coming years, driverless cars might be an alternative to taxis, various ride share services or a designated sober driver.
In the meantime, driving while impaired in any way is illegal and potentially deadly. There’s never a good reason to risk the lives of passengers, pedestrians and fellow drivers by getting behind the wheel after drinking or taking drugs. Period.