In Colorado, it’s legal to smell like marijuana while driving and to have paraphernalia in the car. It’s even legal to have marijuana in the car as long as the weed’s in a sealed container away from the driver.
But it’s illegal to drive impaired from cannabis, just like it’s illegal to drive drunk. And the number of deaths due to car crashes involving marijuana is rising, says Sam Cole, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
“It’s still small compared to all the other reasons we’re seeing for fatalities out there,” he says. In 2016, 51 people died in crashes that involved drivers whose blood tested contained a certain level of active THC. That’s 8 percent of all crash fatalities in 2016. “The data indicates it’s a growing problem.” And CDOT has allocated almost a million dollars, all from marijuana tax revenue, to educate the public about the danger of driving while high.
And yet, confirming that someone has actually been driving while impaired by marijuana is remarkably tricky. But that doesn’t stop Colorado lawyer Chris Halsor from teaching law enforcement officers to recognize the signs of marijuana impairment.
“It’s a brave new world,” he says to a room full of Colorado State Patrol officers. There are now more dispensaries in the state than there are Starbucks coffee shops, he tells the students as they learn how to correctly perform roadside sobriety tests.
To complicate matters, as CDOT’s Sam Cole notes, “the only roadside device that’s allowed to be used, by statute, is an alcohol device.” It’s largely up to officers to determine on the side of the road if a person is impaired from pot.
As part of the training, Halsor assigned the officers to go shopping at local dispensaries, so they could get a sense of what pot products are out there. Then, a group of volunteers arrived, introduced themselves to the officers, and promptly proceeded to an RV parked in the hotel parking lot where, as payment for their participation, they could legally consume as much pot as they wanted from a plastic tub of edibles, vape pens, joints and other pot products.
When the volunteers returned to the hotel, the officers tested them on a number of measures meant to distinguish the impaired from the sober.
How many quarters are in $1.75? A person who’s impaired might take a while to figure it out.
Walk nine paces, touching toe to heel, along a line, then return. Someone who’s impaired might forget the instructions or have trouble balancing.
Follow a pen with your eyes as an officer moves it around your face. An impaired person’s eyes often show something called “horizontal gaze nystagmus,” in which the eyes jerk when they move to the side. When the pen moves toward the nose, an impaired person’s eyes often show “lack of convergence” — their eyes can’t cross in sync, drifting or shifting around rather than converging on the tip of the nose.
The usefulness of many of these tests are backed up by scientific evidence, but the methods don’t always apply to everyone equally. And they are all subject to — even dependent upon — an officer’s observations, biases, and interpretation.
Indeed, one of the volunteer’s results were clear-cut. “She’d be going to jail,” said Rich Armstrong, an officer with Colorado State Patrol, and the others all agreed. But the other three were not.
Officers disagreed about the second woman, who did well on some parts of the tests and poorly on others. “It was a tough one,” said Trooper Tom Davis, also with CSP.
“Yeah, this is one of those subjective areas,” said Rich Armstrong.
The officers determined that, in real life, they would not have arrested the two male volunteers for impairment, even though the male volunteers had consumed a comparable amount of cannabis to the female volunteers.
Enter the scientists. At the Boulder branch of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, nestled among buildings that house atomic clocks and giant lasers, there is a group of researchers dedicated to forensic science. And right now, a few them are all about pot. Measuring it precisely, of course.
Chemical engineer Tara Lovestead is working hard to lay the groundwork for a pot breathalyzer. As federal employees, she and her colleagues can’t actually develop commercial breath tests, but they’re doing the nitty gritty basic research like measuring the fundamental physical properties of THC. The findings could help companies and researchers create reliable devices that correlate chemicals in a person’s breath to their level of impairment.
From Lovestead’s point of view, the current system for determining marijuana impairment relies too much on an officer’s interpretation. “It’s too subjective. I’m not comfortable with that. The public, I don’t think, is comfortable with that,” she says.
At least two companies are working on devices, including Cannabix Technologies and Hound Labs, but they’re still in the testing phase. And though officers in California are already using a marijuana detection device called the Drager DrugTest 5000, it does not detect a person’s level of impairment — only the presence of THC in their saliva.
Often, when officers deem an erratic or dangerous driver to be impaired from marijuana, they bring the driver in for a blood test. According to state law, if a milliliter of the person’s blood contains more than 5 nanograms of active THC, the person can be “presumed” to be impaired. But researchers have shown that the 5-nanogram limit can be misleading, possibly incriminating someone who last smoked days before driving, and possibly missing someone who just consumed cannabis.
“It’s a very challenging problem and a lot of work needs to be done,” says Lovestead, whose research group previously worked on technology that could sample tiny amounts of chemicals in the air to detect things like explosives or buried bodies.
While scientists and companies chip away at developing marijuana breath tests, Sam Cole at CDOT is exploring another big question: what’s behind Colorado’s rise in crash fatalities involving marijuana.
“The 64 million dollar question is: Is it because of legalization?” he says. Data on crash fatalities and marijuana is spotty before 2013. So the answer, Cole says, is unclear.
A motorcyclist suffered serious injuries in a collision with a dump truck full of manure just before 5 p.m. Tuesday in the 2000 block of South County Road 7 south of Loveland.
The dump truck was a farm vehicle hauling manure for a Rocky Mountain Dairy operation. Only the man driving the motorcycle was hurt after being thrown from his vehicle in the collision, said Trooper Dave McKee with Colorado State Patrol.
The man suffered a severely broken leg, but was alert and able to speak with emergency medical personnel dispatched to transport him, McKee said. Due to the severity of the injury, a full trauma team was activated by Medical Center of the Rockies, according to McKee.
The motorcyclist was not wearing a helmet, McKee said.
He was trailing the dump truck hauling manure, with both vehicles heading northbound on County Road 7. When the truck slowed to make a left turn into a driveway of the dairy farm, the motorcyclist tried to pass the truck on the two-lane road and clipped its left front corner before he was thrown west of the southbound lane into a muddy driveway, McKee said.
The driver of the dump truck was unhurt, and pulled over to the side of the road following the crash. There were multiple witnesses to the crash, McKee said.
Another trooper with Colorado State Patrol was at the hospital trying to ascertain from the motorcyclist whether drugs or alcohol contributed to the crash, McKee said. No official determinations had been made on whether the motorcyclist was impaired or whether speed was a factor at press time.
A press release from the Colorado Department of Transportation announced Tuesday the agency is launching a campaign to promote motorcycle safety in light of a sharp rise in the number of motorcycle crashes on the state’s roads recently.
This year alone, 72 motorcyclists have been killed on Colorado roads, the press release said. Motorcyclist fatalities hit an all-time high of 125 in 2016. While motorcycles account for just 3 percent of registered vehicles on the road, motorcyclists represent over 20 percent of fatalities.
Self-driving cars are going to transform city streets, making our roads safer and our lives more efficient.
But they will have other, less predictable consequences too — like helping people get way more drunk.
Analysts at Morgan Stanley recently assessed the potential impact of autonomous vehicles on the alcohol industry, and their conclusions are good news for anyone who likes a drink.
Alcohol consumption is likely to increase, they predicted, with significant accompanying benefits for drinks businesses.
Right now alcohol and driving do not go together. People drink less (or not at all) if they have to drive, and time spent driving is — obviously — time that can’t exactly be spent drinking.
“These markets should, for obvious safety reasons, be entirely mutually exclusive,” Morgan Stanley said.
But if your car can drive itself, this may soon change. People won’t have to worry about the “designated driver,” and can even drink while in the vehicle itself.
Police say a woman is in critical condition after a drunken driver plowed into a group of cyclists participating in a biking event in New York City.Three bicyclists were injured during the Sunday morning NYC Century Bike Tour in Brooklyn. Police say the 39-year-old driver of the van has been arrested and charged with vehicular assault, driving without a license and driving while impaired. Police say the man was intoxicated when he drove into the crowd of bicyclists who were stopped at a red light.Authorities say a 55-year-old woman from Queens is in critical condition.Police say a 31-year-old man is in stable condition, and a third suffered minor injuries.
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Retired World Cup soccer champion Abby Wambach was arrested for investigation of driving under the influence.
Portland police Sgt. Peter Simpson said in a statement Sunday that a sergeant stopped the 35-year-old Saturday night after she reportedly ran a red light in her Range Rover near downtown.
Simpson says Wambach failed field sobriety tests and was arrested. He says she also failed a breath test at the police precinct.
Wambach, who lives in Portland, was booked into Multnomah County Jail early Sunday on a charge of Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII) — Alcohol. Jail booking records show she was released Sunday on her own recognizance.
Wambach is the leading career scorer — male or female — in international soccer with 184 goals. She retired in December after 15-years with the U.S. women’s national team.
She issued a statement on her Facebook page on Sunday morning, writing she was arrested as she was returning home from dinner at a friend’s house.
“Those that know me, know that I have always demanded excellence from myself. I have let myself and others down. I take full responsibility for my actions,” she wrote. “This is all on me. I promise that I will do whatever it takes to ensure that my horrible mistake is never repeated.
“I am so sorry to my family, friends, fans and those that look to follow a better example.”
The Portland Police Bureau said Wambach was “polite and cooperative throughout the investigation.”
One of Wambach’s sponsors, MINI USA, said Sunday night it was withdrawing ads for the automobile that feature Wambach.
“This behavior is against the values we promote as an organization and the safety of everyone on the road is a priority here at MINI. Because of this, we are re-evaluating her association with the brand and are pulling content that individually features Abby from our marketing,” the company said in a statement. “We will continue to assess the situation and weigh our options.”
Wambach capped her career last summer with the sport’s most prestigious championship when the United States defeated Japan 5-2 in Canada at the World Cup. It was the third World Cup title for the U.S. women, and first since 1999.
Wambach announced her retirement in October. Since she stepped away from the team, she has made several appearances in charity events and also campaigned for former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
She played her last match with the team in December, a 1-0 loss to China in New Orleans.
Wambach appeared in four World Cups with the national team. She also has a pair of Olympic gold medals from the 2004 Games in Athens and the 2012 Games in London. She did not compete in the Beijing Games because of a broken leg.
Wambach has also been active in fighting for equal rights for female athletes. She led a group of players in protesting FIFA’s decision to play the 2015 World Cup on artificial turf, which is considered by many players to be inferior to grass.