Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Drugged Driving an Increasing Problem in Massachusetts

According to Massachusetts data license revocations, OUI, or operating under the influence charges are up a whopping 65% in the last three years, according to NBC Boston. According to Massachusetts State Police Trooper Patrick Mahady, many Massachusetts drivers do not know the amount of a drug, especially marijuana, that actually impairs them to the point they should not be driving on the road.

Unlike alcohol, for which a Blood Alcohol Test can clearly and accurately define when a driver is too intoxicated, no such test exists for marijuana, which is a widely used drug, especially since it became legal last month. While the effects of marijuana on a person’s driving ability are uncontested – with a slower reaction time and decreased motor skills, the drug still lacks a test to tell when a person is operating under the influence of cannabis. According to NBC Boston, even a small hit of marijuana can have devastating consequences. With the introduction of legalized cannabis throughout the state in 2018, the police worry that impaired driving may only increase.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an ideal drugged driving test would include:

“A field sobriety test for marijuana use would detect that a suspect is impaired by marijuana. Such a test would have high specificity, meaning that the test would only detect impairment due to marijuana use and nor for any other reason. Law enforcement would not use a test that had false positives, in other words falsely suggested someone was impaired by marijuana when they were not. At the same time, the test would ideally be appropriately sensitive to the effects of marijuana and not indicate that someone was not impaired by marijuana when they were driving.”

Unfortunately, no such test exists. Therefore, determining intoxication is typically up to the cop’s discretion when he or she performs a field sobriety test. Because most officers lack consistent training on the effects of marijuana and how a person under the influence behaves in a sobriety test, this method is often unreliable. Only 10% of the Commonwealth’s police force has received the training required to identify drugged drivers.

Speaking to NBC Boston, Massachusetts State Police Trooper Patrick Mahady said, “If people get pulled over and the cop isn’t trained in identifying the type of drugs that they’re suing or he’s not trained in identifying the types of impairment, the message will get out ‘It’s OK. He let me go.’ The worst-case scenario is that they let [a person under the influence of drugs] back on the roads.”

Massachusetts hopes to have a mechanism similar to the breathalyzer that can accurately and precisely identify when a driver is under the influence of marijuana. According to Jeff Larson, director of highway safety for Massachusetts, the Commonwealth hopes to implement this new drug testing technology by summer 2018.