New bill aims to make all 'drugged driving' illegal

February 19, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Everyone knows drinking and driving is not just dangerous, but also illegal. But what about driving under the influence of Kava tea or cough medicine? In California, that can be a gray area, but a new effort aims to change that.

"Perhaps the alcohol laws are effective, but actually not the drugged driving laws," former CHP Lt. Bob McGrory said. It's still hard for him to talk about the death of his son, Justin, who was also a highway patrolman. The 28-year-old was killed in 2010 when Rafael Garcia swerved into him during a traffic stop.

McGrory says Garcia had marijuana in his system, but the case ended in a hung jury. "The jury was unable to come to a conclusion whether he was under the influence, even after having overwhelming amount of evidence," he recalled.

The McGrory tragedy highlights how difficult it is to prosecute cases in California involving drivers under the influence of drugs. Unlike sobriety tests where a .08 alcohol level is considered legally impaired, there's no definitive threshold for "drugged driving."

Democratic Senator Lou Correa of Santa Ana has introduced a bill that makes it illegal to be behind the wheel with any detectable amounts of Schedule I through IV drugs unless you have a prescription. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, that includes Tylenol with codeine, Xanax, and Valium. "Any level of being drugged is dangerous when driving. So, the level should be zero. Zero tolerance," he said.

A prescription, though, doesn't give drivers a pass. An officer can still pull over anyone who's driving appears impaired. Not everyone agrees with the proposal. Opponents say the measure is too tough on those who use medical marijuana legally and those who use over-the-counter cold medicines. They claim ingredients in Claritin and Dayquil could cause someone to test positive for drugs and pot may linger in the body for weeks.

They'd rather see an impairment test. "The problem is that they can be driving, but the cannabinoids stay in their system for 30 days. So, they may not be impaired. There may be no problem," said Lanette Davies with Crusaders for Patient's Rights

A 2012 Office of Traffic Safety study found that drugged driving is more prevalent in California than drunk driving.


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