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More Drivers Test Positive for Drugs than Alcohol, According to Survey

Drugged driving is on the rise, but San Rafael is taking action to curb its consequences.

When one hears those three dreadful letters “DUI,” they may immediately assume they are for drunken driving. A new study reports that California drivers under the influence of drugs outnumber those who are alcohol-impaired.

Approximately 14 percent of California drivers tested positive for drugs and 7.3 percent tested positive for alcohol in 2010, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety.

San Rafael was one of nine California cities that conducted the late-night DUI checkpoints that gathered the data. Other cities included were Anaheim, Chula Vista, Eureka, Fresno, Gardena, Modesto, Ontario and Redding. Over 1,300 drivers agreed to provide breath and saliva samples at the roadside locations, according to OTS representative Chris Cochran.

“Drunken driving statistics have been going down,” Cochran said. “But studies are showing that drugged driving is going up so we need to pay attention to that.”

Illegal drugs were found in 4.6 percent of the drivers surveyed, and another 4.6 percent tested positive for prescription or over-the-counter medication that may impair their driving. More than one quarter of those who tested positive for marijuana also tested positive for other drugs in their system.

These results come in during a time when California is seeing an increase in drug-related accidents. Drug-impaired drivers are often under-reported—even not recognized—during stops. In 2010, San Rafael recorded 262 deaths or injuries from collisions. From those collisions, 21 of them were alcohol involved. There is yet to be exact data on how many collisions were drug related.

While testing for drug use is expensive, OTS is supporting several programs to fund new laboratory drug-testing equipment, hold consistent DUI checkpoints and assign experienced district attorneys to cases.

In October, Marin County received a $200,000 grant that will largely be used to target impaired drivers in DUI checkpoints. The OTS awarded San Rafael with another grant of $102,000.

The grants come after years of budget cuts that have affected many police forces throughout the state. “There have been monetary problems and retirements so we are definitely down in number,” San Rafael Police spokeswoman Margo Rohrbacher said. “The work load doesn’t decrease, but the number of people doing the work has.”

Currently, there are 67 sworn police officers in San Rafael, down from the 75 city usually has sworn in. While budget problems have impacted Marin County, more is being done to apprehend impaired drivers. “One of the activities sponsored by the grant will be to teach officers additional tests and ways to check if drivers are impaired,” Rohrbacher said.

One widely used program has trained more than 1,600 officers in the state. Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement was created to address the gap between sobriety testing and drug evaluation. California has more drug recognition experts than in any other state, but some figures reveal that as much as 30 percent of California drivers killed in car accidents tested positive for legal as well as illegal drugs.

Statistics on impaired driving have been ambiguous. To help collect exact data, Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed AB 2552 in law, which created separate DUI categories: alcohol, drugs and a combination of alcohol and drugs.

In addition, Marin County has appointed two special prosecutors to follow DUI cases from arrest through trial. The county is also separating DUI cases in different categories, which helps the district attorney’s office keep better track of the specific offenses committed.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Barry Borden said they will be especially targeting repeat offenders. “With prosecutors who are focusing solely on these cases, we think their handling will be enhanced,” he said.

There were 232 DUI arrests made in San Rafael in 2010. Data show that with publicized and consistent DUI checkpoints, crashes involving drugs and alcohol can drop as much as 20 percent.

For the San Rafael Police Department, education and enforcement are both key focuses to keeping San Rafael’s streets safe. “We get very good feedback from the DUI checkpoints,” she said. “It might be a momentary inconvenience, but the outcome is positive.”

San Rafael resident Michelle Brown has gone through some of the city’s checkpoints, but has also witnessed a couple of car collisions that she wished she would have never seen. 

“They were late at night, and something tells me that one of the drivers was not in his right mind,” Brown recalled. “There are just things done with cars that can’t be done if you’re sober. I’m okay with going through checkpoints if it means that that won’t happen to me or my kids.”

See what else is happening in San Rafael:

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  4. San Rafael’s Priciest Homes: 25 Harcourt Street
  5. Drivers Flee After Crash on 101

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Jay November 30, 2012 at 05:37 PM
"I’m okay with going through checkpoints if it means that that won’t happen to me or my kids.” you won't achieve security that way
Concerned Citizen November 30, 2012 at 06:52 PM
There aren't too many drugs whose effects last as long as the window for a positive result. Marijuana can typically have an effect from a few minutes to a few hours, but can stay in your system for up to 8 weeks. So a positive drug test resulting in a DUI can stem from use that occurred days, if not weeks, prior. Even with drugs like cocaine or meth, the test results will show positive up to 72 hours later. Should we really be using drug testing as evidence for DUI? Not if we are really trying to catch impaired drivers. (Which is the sole reason the 4th amendment is allowed to be circumvented. Using a DUI checkpoint with the intention of trying to bust people for any non-DUI related offenses is about as unconstitutional as it gets... sneaky cops)
Anthony November 30, 2012 at 10:34 PM
If pulled over and under the influence of marijuana, you will be given a DWI.
tony masi December 02, 2012 at 02:54 AM
I don't understand the math in this article. At first it states that 14% of CA drivers tested positive for drugs. Later it states that of those tested, 4.6% showed evidence of illegal drug use and 4.6% showed evidence of legal drug use. That's 14% vs. 9.6%. What am I missing? Still, if the numbers are correct, it's very telling that vehicular drug abuse is surpassing vehicular alcohol abuse by almost 2 to 1. I've also read that prescription drug addiction is now more prevalent than illegal drug addiction in the U.S.. Makes you wonder who the up and coming kingpin pushers and menaces to a responsible pharmacological society ultimately and really are.
tony masi December 02, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Oops! Apparently, I don't even understand my own math. I meant 14% vs. 9.2%.

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