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Testing the limits of driving while drunk and high

President John F. Kennedy famously said that Americans ought to ask what they can do for their country, not what their country can do for them. But it's doubtful that he imagined anything like the group of people who have been volunteering for the federal government to get intoxicated on alcohol and marijuana before attempting to drive.

The group volunteers to help federal scientists understand how marijuana consumption affects drivers, but also how combinations of marijuana and alcohol affect the ability of people to drive.  According to the Associated Press, similar studies were once conducted to develop DUI standards. It should be noted that the impaired people in this study were behind the wheel only on virtual roads in driving simulators.

The volunteers were "happy to participate," a researcher said. Before the driving tests, the 19 volunteers would take measured amounts of alcohol and marijuana. During the tests, driver blood and saliva was sampled to check impairment levels.

The three-year study was completed this past spring, and now researchers are busy crunching numbers to understand what the data signifies. The information might one day be used by states to revamp drunken driving statutes and DUID laws.

A Colorado state trooper interviewed for the article said that after pulling a driver over, his focus is on figuring out if that person is "OK to drive." He uses field sobriety tests, a breathalyzer and a new marijuana screening system that tests a sample of a motorist's saliva to determine if the driver has consumed marijuana within the past week or so. The test cannot determine if the person is impaired at the moment.

Perhaps one day science will find ways to accurately measure impairment for all drivers. Until then, legitimate challenges by attorneys to DUI arrests can in some cases result in dropped or reduced charges.   

Source:, "Feds test how stoned is too stoned to drive," Trevor Hughes, July 25, 2014

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