Beer or a joint: It doesn’t matter. Don’t drive.
It is rare, but once in awhile I find myself with a spare 30 minutes between appointments or court hearings. This week, I found myself with a little spare time while at the Courthouse and decided to pop my head into Justice Court to see what was happening there. I thought I might catch a small claims case, or a preliminary hearing, but instead I heard the heart rending story of a life impacted by a gentleman who later plead, “Oh, officer, I only had two beers.” I happened to walk into the first portion of the presentation by the Victim Impact Panel, a group of people who share their stories and experiences in the hopes of preventing someone from driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
In 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) reported that 32 percent of all fatal car accidents in the State of Nevada involved blood alcohol content of a 0.08 or higher. That same study showed that when a fatality was involved, 24 percent of the alcohol-impaired drivers with 0.08 BAC or higher had their license suspended or revoked in the last three years, and 7 percent had a DUI conviction within the last 3 years. This problem disproportionately affects young people. This study shows that only 15 percent of drivers involved in fatal accidents with 0.08 BAC or higher were over the age of 55, although that percentage has been increasing over the last 10 years.
Most data on driving under the influence revolves around alcohol, but the first big study on the effects of driving with marijuana in your system was released by the NHTSA in February 2015 after studying traffic accidents of all types over a 20 month period. Astoundingly, the study found that a driver is 25 percent more likely than someone who tests clean for drugs to be in a traffic accident if the driver has THC (the metabolite for marijuana) in his or her system.
The Legislature has recognized this risk and put serious penalties in place for driving under the influence. Whether it is alcohol, or marijuana, driving under the influence still poses a serious risk to you, your passengers, other drivers and passengers, and the public in general. It is nothing to be taken lightly. Just because alcohol, and now marijuana, can be consumed recreationally does not mean that you can imbibe without being conscious of its effects nor that you should be driving with it in your system. While the 0.08 BAC is a long-established standard, it is also a DUI to drive with 2 nanograms of marijuana or 5 nanograms of THC in your system. This is the standard confirmed and enacted by our Legislature this last session; it went into effect on July first.
Whether you drink and drive, or consume marijuana and drive, if you drive impaired you are committing a crime. If you drive with these substances in your body-even if you do not feel impaired-you are committing a crime. Your actions put yourself and others at significantly more risk when you use controlled substance and drive. There are real, personal consequences for your actions. They can’t be overlooked, white-washed, or undone. Just ask any speaker on the Victim Impact Panel. Whether it is beer or a joint: stop. Don’t get in that car. Don’t drive.
If you find yourself in this situation, I encourage you to call a friend, a cab, or Uber. (Yes, Douglas County has Uber.) And if you find that you are in a cycle of addiction, I encourage you to get help. Our local AA Chapter can be reached at 355-1151.
Cassandra Jones is an elder law and family law attorney in Gardnerville. She can be reached at 782-0040.