by Alex Fitzsimmons
Everyone knows the dangers of drunk driving and every state in the country sets blood alcohol level limits. But state lawmakers have recently turned their attention to another deadly behavior: drugged driving.
Colorado became the latest state to debate drugged driving, as the House voted last week on whether to set a limit of 5 nanograms of THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) per millimeter of blood. The bill fell one vote short of advancing in the Senate, failing on a 17-17 tie.
More than 30 million people drove drunk and more than 10 million drove drugged in 2009, according to government data. While there is a nationwide standard of .08 g/ml blood alcohol concentration, states like Colorado are finding that regulating drugged driving is a much trickier endeavor.
Determining the point at which a driver is sufficiently impaired so as to pose a risk to society is no easy task not only for states, but also for the scientific community. States have taken a variety of approaches to address impairment levels. More than 30 bills related to drugged driving have been introduced in state legislatures this year, according to NCSL’s Drugged Driving LegisBrief. At NCSL’s 2011 Legislative Summit, state lawmakers explored the challenges of crafting drugged driving legislation.
Seventeen states have passed “per se” laws that make it illegal for drivers to have any prohibited drug in their systems while driving. In these states, the mere presence of drugs in the body is illegal. But not all of these blanket bans are created equal: Minnesota, for example, exempts marijuana.
Other states address impairment levels with laws that set a blood content threshold. Ohio and Nevada established a threshold of 2 nanograms of illegal substances, while Pennsylvania’s administrative rule sets the level at 5 nanograms.
At the federal level, Congress is considering legislation to fund research on new driving technologies and training for police officers to identify drugged drivers.