The facts about the effects of alcohol on drivers are clear. Some of the presumed facts about the effects of marijuana on drivers just went up in smoke, however. According to a study by the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, marijuana use does not significantly raise the risk of causing car accidents.
That finding undermines some of the reasoning behind Virginia's tough DUI laws that apply to marijuana use just as they apply to alcohol use. But there is no doubt whatsoever that Loudoun County and Leesburg police officers will continue to take drivers suspected of impairment by marijuana into custody and charge them with DUI.
The NHTSA study looked at 3,000 Virginia drivers over 20 months, measuring substances (if any) in their bodies at the time of motor vehicle accidents. The study also examined 6,000 other drivers in the Virginia Beach area over the same 20-month period; drivers who were not in any crashes.
Unsurprising result: drunken drivers are four times more likely than sober drivers to get into an accident. Surprising result: drivers who have consumed marijuana are just 5 percent more likely to be in a crash than a sober driver.
There is no need to study police officers at this point, however: if you are pulled over by a cop who thinks you are impaired by weed, you will be arrested. As the Commonwealth notes on its website, "Virginia is tough on drunk and drugged drivers."
It also says, "If your driving is affected because you are under the influence of any drug, you may face the same penalties as driving under the influence of alcohol."
Those facing drugged driving charges should speak with an attorney experienced in DUI defense.