A recent Columbian newspaper article headline read: “21% in ‘17 fatal crashes had THC in system”. It went on to explain that since marijuana has been legalized, the incidence of Washington drivers impaired by marijuana causing fatal crashes has increased significantly. Actually, the numbers practically doubled, comparing the averages of drivers testing positive for tetrahydrocannabinol over the five years before the legalization was passed to the five years after legalization occurred. The Columbian, January 31, 2020, p. 1, Section C. Apparently this is yet another thing to be alert for if you are involved in a crash.
The thought occurs to me of how important it is in this new age of legalized marijuana use that we all learn something about the signs and symptoms of drug impairment. I met recently with someone who described having been hit by a drunk driver on a public highway in Clark County, Washington. In contacting the other driver, there was an overwhelming odor of alcohol, and other apparent signs of alcohol intoxication. Surprisingly, per what I was told by this DUI victim, when a policeman finally showed up at the scene, the officer showed little interest in investigating or preparing any report of the matter until it became evident that the crash had occurred because of impairment.
When I started handling vehicle crash cases in Clark County and other Washington state counties, the police were always quick to respond to most motor vehicle collisions and would almost always prepare at least a minimal report, called a “Police Traffic Collision Report”, and would cite drivers for infractions they had committed that may have contributed in any way to the occurrence of the accident. If the collision were more severe or involved some arguable criminal conduct, like a DUI, a much more comprehensive investigation report would follow. That remained the norm in the 1980s, the 1990s, and the first decade of this century. Unfortunately, however, changes in police policy somewhere along the line in the last 10 years has resulted in police not responding at all to 911 calls of a car accident in the bulk of cases, or if they do respond, in them not performing any investigation or preparing any report – rather, they at best simply facilitate the exchange of the involved drivers' respective identification and insurance information. This seems to be true of police response policies in Multnomah County, Oregon, and other areas around the Northwest, as well now – no suspected crime, no severe injury, no police response. But having the police show up at the scene, investigate what happened, analyze who is at fault, and file a report can be very important to one's ability to obtain a fair recovery for property damage and injuries arising from vehicular collisions. That much, as a seasoned lawyer, I can tell you.
Which highlights the importance of being able to offer Regional Communications better information when you place a 911 call, should you have the misfortune of being involved in a car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, or pedestrian versus auto crash in our area.
So, if life hasn't already given you the skills to be able to spot not only alcohol impairment symptoms, but also those of marijuana or other drug usage, it may behoove you to do some research in that regard, before braving the public highways of our community further. There are many publications available online that can be used as a reference guide for gaining some elemental knowledge of symptoms that a person may display who has been using marijuana or other drugs, legal or illegal. One such example is https://www.bot.ca.gov/licensees/sign_symp.pdf, published by the state of California.
Years ago, because it was pertinent to my scope of law practice at the time, I took a three-day course related to field sobriety testing and drug impairment recognition. It has been a while and I haven't revisited what I learned “way back then” in that course. Perhaps it is time, however, that I brush up on how to spot signs and symptoms of an impaired driver, myself, so that I will know what to tell 911 at some point in the future, in the unfortunate circumstance of my having to call in to report just having been involved in a car wreck.