When most people hear driving under the influence (DUI) they think about drunk driving. While the term DUI does refer to people who drive while intoxicated, it can also be used to describe someone who is driving under the influence of drugs.
In Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, there have been instances of people driving stoned. Though marijuana hasn’t been linked to a significant rise in motor vehicle accidents or related deaths, statistics show that a portion of traffic fatalities can be attributed to marijuana use.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), 547 of the traffic fatalities in 2015 involved drugs. In these accidents, 68 drivers tested positive for cannabis only and 24 tested positive for cannabis and other drugs.
Since recreational cannabis use is still relatively new in our state, there are a lot of questions that go along with it. How does marijuana affect one’s ability to drive? How do the police determine if someone is driving high? And, perhaps most importantly, what happens if you’re hit by a stoned driver?
To answer these questions, we’ve complied some information to help you learn more about driving under the influence of marijuana and what to do if you’re in an accident with a driver you suspect may be stoned.
Marijuana’s Effect on Driving
Like alcohol, marijuana can have a substantial effect on the user’s perception of their surroundings. It affects a number of functions that are critical to be able to drive safely, including:
- Reaction time
- Hand-eye coordination
- Short-term memory
- Perception of time
- Depth/distance perception
It should also be noted that combining marijuana with alcohol increases the effect of both substances, making driving even more dangerous.
Colorado Marijuana DUI Law
If police suspect someone of driving high, that person must consent to a blood test to determine how much THC is in their system. According to state law, anyone with more than 5ng/ml of THC in their blood is guilty of driving under the influence, even if they are a medical marijuana patient. Refusal to submit to a blood test results in an automatic DUI or DWAI (driving while ability impaired) charge and a one-year revocation of the driver’s license.
If the blood test reveals the driver’s blood contains more than 5ng/ml of THC they will be charged with DUI. If the THC content in the blood is less than 5ng/ml, but the driver is still clearly impaired, they may be charged with DWAI. Either way, stoned drivers are subject to the same punishments as drunk drivers:
- First DUI offense – 5 days to 1 year of jail time, fines between $600 and $1,000, 48-96 hours of community service, and up to 2 years of probation.
- First DWAI offense – 2 to 180 days of jail time, fines between $200 and $500, 24-48 hours of community service, and up to 2 years of probation.
- Second DUI or DWAI offense – 10 days to 1 year of jail time, fines between $600 and $1,500, 48-120 hours of community service, and a minimum of 2 years of probation.
- Third DUI or DWAI offense – Minimum of 60 days in jail or a maximum of 1 year, mandatory drug and alcohol driving safety education or treatment program, minimum fine of $600 or a maximum of $1,500, minimum of 48 hours of community service or a maximum of 120 hours, and a minimum of 2 years of probation.
How Police Identify Stoned Drivers
If the driver who hit you smells of marijuana or cannabis is found inside their car, it’s a pretty good indication they might have been driving under the influence. But what if the signs aren’t so obvious?
Colorado police officers are trained to detect alcohol and drug use in drivers. Many of them even go through a special program to become a drug recognition expert (DRE). If you suspect the driver who hit you is stoned, and the responding police officer is not a DRE, you can ask to have one sent to the accident scene.
The DRE’s first step is to make sure the driver is indeed under the influence of a controlled substance, as opposed to suffering from a medical condition. They must also figure out how impaired the driver is and what kind of drug they have been using. DREs use a unique 12-step process to help the analyze the situation. They begin by:
- Conducting blood-alcohol content (BAC) tests (which are not applicable in the case of marijuana)
- Interviewing the responding officer (if different than the DRE)
- Performing an initial examination of the driver
- Checking the driver’s eyes
- Performing a divided attention test
- Checking the driver’s vital signs
- Examining pupil size, as well as oral and nasal cavities
- Checking the driver’s muscle tone
- Looking for injection sites (not applicable in the case of marijuana)
- Questioning the driver
- Developing an opinion on the driver’s level of impairment
- Obtaining a blood sample for further analysis
Since there is currently no Breathalyzer test for marijuana use, the driver’s level of impairment can only be measured by a blood test. These results can take a little while to come back and, by law, the DRE cannot make a final determination until all of the steps have been completed. Given that, it may be a little while before you find out of the driver who hit you was stoned or not.
What to Do if You’re Hit by a Stoned Driver
In the moments after a car accident, you’re likely to be a little confused and scared, especially if you were injured. The following steps can help you stay safe and protect your chances of being able to file a successful personal injury claim:
- Call 911 or local law enforcement. Even if nobody was injured, you need to call authorities to have a police officer respond to the scene and file a report.
- Get to a safe place. If you can move the vehicles involved off the road safely, do so. If not, get yourself and anyone else involved off the road to a safe area nearby.
- Collect information. Write down the names and addresses of everyone involved as well as their phone numbers, driver’s license numbers, license plate numbers, and the names and policy numbers for their insurance.
- Observe the driver who hit you. If you suspect the driver who hit you is stoned, observe their behavior while you collect their information. If you notice any of these signs, let the responding police officer know:
- Red/watery eyes
- Smoke smell
- Excessive salivating, lip smacking, or swallowing
- Shaking hands
- Difficulty speaking
- Sudden changes in energy levels or behavior
- Take pictures. Photograph the scene, the vehicles, and any injuries.
- Locate witnesses. See if any other drivers stopped or if any pedestrians witnessed the accident. If so, collect their contact information.
- Keep your thoughts to yourself. Don’t make allegations or accusations as to how the accident occurred or who you think caused it. Save your opinions to discuss with your attorney.
When to Talk to an Attorney
If you were in an accident caused by a driver you suspect was stoned, contact the Denver attorneys at The Frickey Law Firm as soon as possible.
We may be able to help you pursue compensation for your injuries and other damages. Call to schedule your free consultation at 303-237-7373 or contact us online.