5 takeaways from NHTSA report to Congress on marijuana impairment

The National Highway Transit Safety Association (NHTSA) recently released a report to Congress outlining the research they currently have on Marijuana use and its effect on driving.  In sum, the report found that the effects marijuana have on driver’s ability to operate safely is unsettled. In fact, there is some research out there that shows that those impaired may in fact operate their vehicle in a more careful manner then when sober or under the influence of alcohol.  Here are five takeaways from this report.

1) THC levels found in blood do not equate to a level of impairment:   One of the major tools used by law enforcement is the blood draw.  This can provide concrete proof that a motorist has used marijuana in the past.  However, it is stated several times over in the report, that the science does not support a level of impairment based on the THC level alone.  In fact, low levels of THC can be found in the blood for up to 30 days after use, which makes it difficult to equate a THC level with a level of impairment.

2) Some tests have shown that those under the influence of marijuana drive more carefully then those who are sober.  An interesting study was  released in 2015 that marijuana may in fact mitigate risky driving by those under the influence of alcohol.  It further found that those under the influence of marijuana tended to drive slower and at farther distances from a vehicle in front of them.

3) Specific cues of marijuana impairment are not available to detect impairment with reasonable certainty:  NHTSA has admitted that unlike with alcohol, law enforcement cannot point to a series of standardized evidentiary cues that can per-se, lead them to a conclusion marijuana impairment.

4) Marijuana’s role in causing crashes is “less clear”:  NHTSA has admitted in their report that it is difficult to correlate the cause of crashes due to marijuana impairment.  The hurdles to show that marijuana impairment does in fact increase the risk of a crash are the same in which NHTSA acknowledged with regards to THC levels in the blood (i.e. they do not equate to a level of impairment).  Further, the presence of THC in the blood for 30 days, skews any data they may have that states that marijuana impairment was in fact the cause of the CRASH.

5) Impairment Curve of Marijuana is sudden:  With alcohol, there has long been established a BAC curve, that shows how alcohol is processed.  Customarily, a peak BAC is reached 20 minutes after the last drink has been consumed.  With marijuana, it is much more difficult to calculate.  According to NHTSA, peak impairment occurs immediately after smoking and drops significantly thereafter.  This curve is heavily dependent on the user, as those who are regular consumers may show far less signs of impairment even after consuming large doses then those who use less consistently.

The overall takeaways from this Marijuana report, is that much is still to be learned about the effects of Marijuana and driving.  Despite this significant gap in knowledge however, one thing was made crystal clear by NHTSA’s report.  They want to see more Drug Recognition Experts trained and on Vermont roads.  This, with the impending legalization bill, will likely result in an increase in Vermont DUI-Marijuana arrests, despite the evidence that supports these arrests remaining unsettled.

Exercise your right to remain silent when being pulled over for a Vermont traffic violation

One of the first questions that officers will ask you when they approach your vehicle is whether you know why they pulled you over.  This question is set up in a way that many motorists may feel like they must answer.  It is this initial statement, in most cases merely meant as a way to be cooperative with the officer, that can be later introduced in court and can be difficult to defend against.  Judges have found that these statements are voluntary and admissible, which means that even if all the other facts contradict the issuance of a Vermont traffic ticket or criminal citation, this statement alone can be enough to uphold a conviction.  A few tips for the roadside questioning are as follows:

  1.  Never reply with a substantive response to the question of why you think you were pulled over:  A simple “I am not sure sir” is sufficient.  Do not think that by admitting to the offense that you are going to be cut a break because it in fact can make the officer’s position stronger and thus they may be less likely to bend on negotiations if they are confident they can secure a conviction at a trial.
  2. Make the officer’s job as easy as possible:  The less time an officer spends in your presence the better it is for both of you.  Have your license and insurance information ready, hand it to the officer as soon as he approaches the vehicle and keep the verbal exchange to an absolute minimum.
  3. Remember, everything you say is likely being recorded:  Most officers have body cams or microphones connected to their uniforms and can catch the entire interaction between the officer and the driver.

Most motorists put in the position of interacting with an officer on the roadside can be an intimidating and daunting task.  Of course we want to be polite to the officer, who is just doing their job, but we also do not want to make turn this cooperation into a full blown confession, which can only go to hurt your case in the event this interaction turns into a full blown arrest or the issuance of a Vermont traffic ticket.

Evan Chadwick Receives Advanced Level Training on Defending Against Hospital Blood Tests

In furtherance of advancing his proficiency in DUI defense, Vermont DUI attorney Evan Chadwick recently received advanced level training on defending against hospital blood tests which are often secured by law enforcement during their DUI-drug and accident based DUI-alcohol investigations.

“Reviewing every aspect of the blood draw and analysis is a key component to defending DUI offenses”, stated Attorney Chadwick.  “The science and law behind these analysis are constantly evolving and we, as attorneys, need to stay ahead of the curve so that we can better understand the science that supports and/or undermines the reliability of these tests.”

For more information on the training received by Attorney Chadwick, click HERE.