Driving lesson

Should the state pass the proposed drug-driving bill?

Kimberly Roy

Massachusetts was the first East Coast state to implement legal adult marijuana. Five years later, we remain asleep at the wheel when it comes to updating our YES laws to help save lives.

For decades, road deaths nationally and in Massachusetts were on the decline. They are now at a historic level.

The Commonwealth’s plan to update driving under the influence of drugs laws, as well as the legalization campaign’s promise to “regulate marijuana like alcohol” have apparently gone up in smoke. Proponents say stoned driving laws are “a solution in search of a problem”, but the numbers don’t lie.

Here’s the raw truth about drug-impaired driving on our roads.

There were 158 drug-related driving deaths in Massachusetts from 2019 to 2021, a 63% increase from the 97 deaths recorded from 2016 to 2018.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released an interim report into cases involving “seriously or fatally injured road users” who were taken to five trauma centers, including one in Worcester. The analysis showed nearly two-thirds of drivers tested positive for at least one active drug, including alcohol, marijuana or opioids in the fourth quarter of 2020.

These are sobering statistics.

To give “law enforcement more tools to protect our roads from drunk drivers,” Governor Charlie Baker introduced the “Private Thomas Clardy Law.” A key provision of the bill expands the Drug Recognition Expert System, which sets out 12 steps specially trained police officers must follow to determine if a driver is impaired by drugs.

He is supported by road safety officials, law enforcement and the family of Cavalier Clardy, who was fatally struck by a drugged driver. I also testified in favor of the bill in my personal capacity. The Legislature has since sent it for study, which the administration says “will only put more lives at risk.”

Instead of completely snuffing out the Clardy Act, Massachusetts could start tackling the problem with a simple fix, updating the state’s open container laws to keep unsealed cannabis products out. in vehicle glove boxes and cabs, while eliminating the ability of drivers. take a puff while driving.

Driving is a privilege, not a right. The numbers don’t lie when it comes to impaired driving. Massachusetts needs to strengthen its impaired driving laws.


Nathan Tamulis

Medico-legal support lawyer for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, based at the group’s office in Bristol County

Nathan TamulisPublic Advisory Services Committee

Marijuana can linger in the urine and blood for days or even weeks, well beyond any ill effects, depending on the dose, method of ingestion, and individual history. Unlike alcohol, a snapshot of marijuana blood levels does not indicate a predictable level of physical impairment. Therefore, a law requiring drivers to take a blood test for marijuana metabolites or lose their license for six months will only ensure injustice. It would also usurp the role of the court as guardian and assessor of evidence in YES cases.

The recent decision by state lawmakers to shelve the legislation for the time being was the right course of action.

If this measure were adopted, a person whose faculties were completely intact at the time of the test could lose their license for having consumed a legal product even a few days before the individual was behind the wheel. The driver could face criminal charges that could mean jail time, collateral issues like job loss and a criminal record that plagues his future.

Beyond the automatic loss of license for legal, non-impaired marijuana users, the legislation is simply flawed in relying on police’s expert drug recognition system to determine if a motorist is in good condition. drunk. The DRE process is not a scientific test or examination. The assessment consists of 12 steps, many of which are limited, non-measurable, subjective or subject to the effects of unconscious bias.

A recent study from Massachusetts General Hospital showed that Governor Charlie Baker’s bill-approved drug recognition procedure has surprisingly high rates of false positives. The study found that 34% of positive drug impairment results made by DRE-trained observers were false – these test subjects were in fact not impaired.

Several recent Massachusetts court decisions have also cast significant doubt on the evidence supporting the DRE system, citing serious problems with the studies’ methodologies and the scientific rigor of their findings. Charged with admitting only reliable scientific evidence in criminal cases, judges in a number of cases have explicitly prohibited the presentation of some of these observations by DREs, or have excluded the testimony and opinions of these experts altogether. non-medical.

It is commendable that policy makers want to take action against impaired driving. But this bill does not do that reliably or fairly.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact [email protected].

This is not a scientific investigation. Please vote only once.