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Surprising number of teens think driving high is legal - and safe

A recent survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) revealed some unexpected information about people's perceptions of driving under the influence of marijuana. Fully one third of teen surveyed said they thought driving while high was legal in states where marijuana itself is legal for recreational use. Remarkably, 27 percent of parents surveyed thought the same thing.

Perhaps even more troubling, while 88 percent of the teens knew that driving drunk was dangerous, only 68 percent thought the same of driving high. And, over 20 percent said driving under the influence of marijuana is common among their friends.

The survey was performed in April and May of this year. It evaluated the responses of 2,800 teens and 1,000 parents.

Another survey, this one of 600 residents in states where pot is legal for recreational use, found people were surprisingly comfortable with driving under the influence of the drug. Thirty-nine percent of those surveyed by the used car dealer Instamotor said they were comfortable driving within two hours of using marijuana. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, however, components of marijuana can remain in your system for days or even weeks.

Why isn't it safe to drive while high?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana produces a number of effects that hamper your ability to drive safely. It can alter your senses, impair your memory and body movements and, in high doses, it can create delusions, hallucinations and even psychosis. Studies have found a direct relationship between the presence of THC (the psychoactive compound in marijuana) in the blood and impaired driving.

"Driving under the influence of marijuana significantly impairs motor coordination, judgment and reaction time," confirms a lead driving safety expert at Liberty Mutual.

These effects are reflected by Florida's DUI law for controlled substances. It's quite difficult to determine how much marijuana will cause impairment in an individual, or even how much THC they have in their system at any given time. There is no simple test or marijuana impairment analogous to a breath test for alcohol impairment.

Therefore, Florida law allows law enforcement to charge people with DUI when other evidence shows impairment. According to one Florida court, impairment means "worsening or diminishment in some material respect." The officer's observations about a person's impairment can be used as evidence of DUI.

What are the penalties for driving while high in Florida?

A first offense for drugged driving can result in several penalties:

  • Up to six months in jail, along with probation
  • A fine of up to $1,000
  • At least 50 hours of community service
  • Driver's license suspension of up to a year
  • Vehicle impoundment or immobilization for 10 days

A subsequent offense -- or an accident -- can cause these penalties to rise. It's also important to realize that possession of marijuana also carries penalties. If you are arrested for marijuana-related DUI and you have a small amount of pot in the car with you, you could be charged with a misdemeanor (20 grams or less) or even a felony (more than 20 grams). A conviction could add a year to five years to your time behind bars and stack on the fines.

Given that so many people misunderstand the legal status and dangers of driving while high, SADD says there needs to be much more honest discussion about the matter. Spokespeople from both SADD and Liberty Mutual also recommend giving your kids a secret code that says "I need to be picked up with no questions asked." For example, that could be the message if your child texts you "222."

If you or your teen is arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana or alcohol, you should contact a lawyer right away. This will give you the best chance of retaining your driving privileges and protecting your rights.

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Adam Chrzan, Attorney At Law
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