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The continued intentional misuse of drugged driving data

There was another study done, this time in California, where drivers were asked to voluntarily participate and were tested for alcohol and other drugs (breathalyzer and saliva tests, primarily).

Naturally, this has led to another spate of hysterical reporting about the road filled with stoned drivers. The L.A. Times topped the list with its headline blaring: More Californians driving high than drunk on weekends, study says. Of course, the study says nothing of the kind.

And its not just the headline writer who blows it. Reporter Wesley Lowery writes “14% of drivers surveyed tested positive for driving under the influence of impairing drugs.” “Under the influence”? No, the study didn’t show that at all.

But ignorant reporters who haven’t done their homework can easily be taken by the way this study data is presented to them.

Check out the press release that went out to the media:

The survey results announced today by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) showed more drivers tested positive for drugs that may impair driving (14 percent) than did for alcohol (7.3 percent). Of the drugs, marijuana was most prevalent, at 7.4 percent, slightly more than alcohol.

“This federally funded survey is the first of its kind ever undertaken by a state,” said Christopher J. Murphy, Director of the Office of Traffic Safety. “These results reinforce our belief that driving after consuming potentially impairing drugs is a serious and growing problem.”

The survey also noted that 7.3 percent of drivers tested positive for alcohol. Of those testing positive for alcohol, 23 percent also tested positive for at least one other drug. This combination can increase the effect of both substances. Illegal drugs were found in the systems of 4.6 percent of drivers, and 4.6 percent also tested positive for prescription or over-the-counter medications that may impair driving. More than one quarter (26.5 percent) of drivers testing positive for marijuana also tested positive for at least one other drug. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that, when looking at drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2010 in California, 30 percent tested positive for legal and/or illegal drugs, a percentage that has increased since 2006.

“Drugged driving poses a serious threat to public safety,” said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy. “We commend the California Office of Traffic Safety for shedding light on this growing problem and for educating Californians about the prevalence of this danger. We look forward to working with California and other states to raise awareness about this important issue and continue to take action to make our roadways safer.”

The newspeak is really quite beautiful.

I really love the use of the phrase “drugs that may impair driving.” Wow. See what they’re doing there? They’re being technically accurate and saying that the drivers merely tested positive, not that they were impaired. But by calling the drugs “drugs that may impair driving” they get the word “impair” in there making readers (or ignorant reporters and headline writers) to make the connection for them.

Or check out this gem by Christopher Murphy: “This federally funded survey is the first of its kind ever undertaken by a state, … These results reinforce our belief that driving after consuming potentially impairing drugs is a serious and growing problem.” Again, I am humbled by the sheer audacity of the notion of stating that the first study of its kind could prove that this is a “growing” problem. And yet, he’s not the only one! Kerlikowske does the same thing later in the piece.

Someday I want to meet the evil geniuses who write text like this. Do they consider their intentionally deceptive writing some kind of big game? I”d really like to know.

….

Going back to the L.A. Times headline. While it was totally unsupported by the facts of the study, think about it for a moment. “More Californians driving high than drunk on weekends…”

If only.

(An increase in stoned drivers combined with an equal decrease in drunk drivers would likely result in safer roads.)

A note for those who have not followed this issue. Nobody is recommending that people drive impaired or in any way make the roads less safe. The point is that the intentional misuse of data does not ever make roads safer.

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25 comments to The continued intentional misuse of drugged driving data

  • Medical pot reduces traffic fatalities (pdf)

    according to researchers at Montana State University, the University of Oregon and the University of Colorado, Denver. Traffic fatalities go down by 8%-11% in states when they phase in medical marijuana. Beer consumption goes down (thanks to John Chase, off his letter via MAP lte list)

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    • That really gives meaning to Pete’s statement-

      I really love the use of the phrase “drugs that may impair driving.” See what they’re doing here?

      Should be “drugs that can improve the safety of our roads and highways in lieu of alcohol”

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      • Windy

        Many prescription drugs warn that the drug may affect one’s ability to drive safely and one should wait and see how the drug affects one before driving any vehicles or operating any dangerous equipment. This clearly shows us that the drugs do not affect all people in the same way nor do they cause impairment in all users (some drugs that supposedly cause drowsiness in most people cause some others to suffer hyperactivity or sleeplessness, and do not alter some others’ ability to stay awake or fall asleep). One-size-fits-all dui laws are harmful on their face, since the one-size-fits-all-drug-effects is clearly not true.

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  • Stoned driving, or as the English introduced it- drugged driving, is really an arbitrary and abstract term that is dependent for its meaning on something (in the case of marijuana) that is subjective rather than objective. It is not just dose related phenomena. Tolerance to repeated use and individual character come into play since you are dealing with a substance very unlike alcohol. If the same paradigm that judges alcohol is used to judge a marijuana driver, the result is far from objective. In fact the result will be skewed.

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  • darkcycle

    I’m guessin’ we’re seeing the hand of the “new guy” in Kevvie’s old job.

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  • isn’t a reporter re-writing a Press Release and calling it a news story like a HS kid copying the encyclopedia and changing some words and structure for a research paper?

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  • You know, until Obama makes some kind of public information available as to what kind of direction he has decided to go in, the rest of the machine will continue to wag the dog. I expect it’s on automatic until then. In high gear.

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  • Emma

    Economist has an excellent story: “Impossible” to end drug trade, says Calderón

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/americasview/2012/11/drugs-business

    “[E]ither the United States and its society, its government and its congress decide to drastically reduce their consumption of drugs, or if they are not going to reduce it they at least have the moral responsibility to reduce the flow of money towards Mexico, which goes into the hands of criminals. They have to explore even market mechanisms to see if that can allow the flow of money to reduce.

    “If they want to take all the drugs they want, as far as I’m concerned let them take them. I don’t agree with it but it’s their decision, as consumers and as a society. What I do not accept is that they continue passing their money to the hands of killers.

    It’s on the front page of Reddit:
    http://www.reddit.com/r/worldnews/comments/13p1ms/mexico_president_says_its_impossible_to_end_drug/

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  • claygooding

    All I have heard is that driving high on marijuana doubles a persons chances of having an accident,,and so does driving 5 mph over the speed limit.

    Any punishment from driving high should then carry the same penalty as driving 5 mph over the speed limit because they both introduce the same amount of risk to other drivers,both can be controlled by the driver and it is the drivers choice that introduces the risk,

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  • claygooding

    Drug Enforcement Administration shuts down Hawaii island office

    http://tinyurl.com/cwa2e4j

    “”HILO » The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration last month closed an office and airport hangar it maintained in Hilo to cut costs.

    The DEA’s aviation division will continue to provide support from Hono­lulu, special agent Sarah Pullen told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. It will continue to conduct investigations and assist local law enforcement throughout Hawaii, she said.

    The “closure of the Hilo office was part of a Department of Justice mandate to reduce DEA’s footprint by closing some offices and saving money. All DOJ components had to identify some offices for closure,” Pullen said.””

    They are going to need all the funds they can rake up to buy enough support in the UN to keep the Single Treaty holy.

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    • Plant Down Babylon

      While gettn my coffee, I saw the article at the bottom of the front page of West Hawaii Today!
      They’ll just continue to fly out from the Kohala coast, however. We voted to refuse fed funding, but they just keep flying via ‘private’ funds.
      The LEO prohib goon Keith Kamita is the guy in charge of our MMJ program (he flies around with green harvest in the copters).
      How could our legislators put someone who’s against MMJ in charge of implementing our program while at the same time in charge of ENFORCEMENT?!

      Just shows how important the wording is on ANY legalization bills drafted.

      Btw…. Happy Thanksgiving couchmates! puff puff pass

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    • Peter

      with a background in special needs teaching i am often amused when i see quotes from dea “special agents”. for me this goes a long way towards explaining the woeful performance of that most special of special agents michele leonhart before congress earlier this year

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  • darkcycle

    They got a new Helo and they’ve been flying again out of the DEA Special Operations Branch here by the border. That sumbitch is freaky quiet, too. You don’t hear it ’till it’s right on top of you. It had looked like they had cleaned the place out this spring, but by harvest season, they were up to their old tricks.

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  • claygooding

    Pushing for pot

    HOUSTON (FOX 26) -http://tinyurl.com/d6fzymz

    The man who bankrolled California’s attempt to legalize marijuana is talking about pursuing the same goal in Texas.

    Richard Lee was in Houston on Friday, leading a meeting with likeminded people who are pushing to change pot laws.

    Lee evolved into an advocate for medicinal marijuana after he became a paraplegic because of a tumble from a rock concert lighting rig in 1990.

    “I had a spinal cord injury,” said Richard Lee, “and I found that cannabis helps with the spasticity. It’s a muscle relaxant.”

    Lee soon founded a pot empire called “Oaksterdam” in California, which okayed medical marijuana in 1996.

    His efforts to persuade Californians to legalize the drug for recreational use failed at the ballot box in 2010.

    But earlier this month, both Washington and Colorado passed similar measures regulating and taxing pot.

    And Richard Lee is rallying his troops to change laws in Texas, which he admits is a long shot. ‘snipped’

    As blood(tax money)hits the water the legislators of TX are politicians just like politicians the world over.a feeding frenzy will occur,,greed demands it.

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  • Servetus

    Drugged driving prevention has always pursued alcohol as its main culprit. There was never any big hurry to detect cocaine, which has no conceivable effects on driving that I know of; or opiates, meth, sedatives and other pharmaceutical medications affecting human reflexes.

    Now, with legalization looming on every horizon, marijuana is again being targeted using abstract methods and vague language within a new framework (or plausible disguise) of drugged driving.

    Much of the problem I think is that the uninitiated believe the stereotypes that getting high on pot makes one dazed and confused. It doesn’t, of course. In its favor, smoking pot increases attention to detail, probably making driving safer, especially if it seems scarier due to new terrain. It also makes getting anywhere seem to take longer, and many drivers, including myself, aren’t going to like that, and will abstain.

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  • I don’t know if driving while stoned is necessarily safer than driving sober, although compared to alcohol people who are intoxicated on the demon weed do tend to drive slower and less aggressively (in my experience).
    Amphetamines used to be given to fighter pilots as Go-Go pills (followed by after flight No-Go pills, benzos or barbituates), if they improve coordination and alertness of fighter pilots they should work for automobile drivers too. I have also heard that commercial airline pilots used to have “emergency” benzedrine (racemic amphetamine) pills for if they get sleepy mid-flight. no reason to believe coke would be any different.
    As for opiates, well, I can personally take dosages that would kill an opiate naive person outright. After years of “practice” my tolerance is such that I can function perfectly fine taking dosages that the average person would find completely debilitating. Research has confirmed this, if people on maintenance doses of powerful opiate narcotics are in any way impaired, it is very difficult to detect experimentally and doesn’t reach statistical significance.
    Of course if you were to test my blood, and use that as the sole criteria of impairment, I should be dead or comatose.

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  • claygooding

    It really boils down to the dash cam in the police car and if I was high when stopped and the officer asked me to take a saliva/blood test for impaired driving,I would refuse until he did an on-camera roadside impairment test.

    Then you can use the coordination test as denial of impaired driving that the test may show positive results.

    Providing as noted above,,your able to walk in a straight line.

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    • Windy

      Some people are not able to pass that roadside sobriety test when stone cold sober, due to physical problems, lack of full mobility, problems with balance, but are still able to drive well, not at all impaired by their physical problems. How do they prove they are not impaired if they test positive under the DUI provision?

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      • darkcycle

        They face that hurdle already. If you don’t blow drunk, they will look for ANYTHING in your bloodstream that may impair you and then charge you. Antihistamines, anti seizure, pain meds, anything. Add tht to the fact that sometimes OTC meds look like Meth to the tests….what you are looking at is a feature of human law. In the end, it comes down to the judgement of people. The responding officer, the prosecuting attorney, or the judge. That’s an inherent bug. So you ban testing….then it’s ALL judgement, and that would be far more arbitrary.

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        • darkcycle

          I should add that people with diabetes are regularly arrested for impaired driving. Insulin reactions and acute alcohol intoxication are dead ringers for each other. These people are not usually charged, but they are regularly taken in on suspicion.
          Best bet, don’t drive while intoxicated on anything. And be careful if you have a condition, or medication that will cause you problems if you’re in an accident or stopped. This goes for the decongestant you took for your cold, or your medical marijuana. The rest, nobody can control.

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  • Stephen Downing

    Neither the state agency or the LA Times reported the conclusions of the study, which proves their intent – – stop the legalization of marijuana at any cost. Here is the conclusion reported in the study:

    “It should be noted that these figures describe the prevalence rates for the presence of these drugs in drivers and do not address whether those drivers were impaired by these substances.”

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  • Duncan20903

    .
    .

    The people who make synthetic dronabinol* sure appear to believe that safe driving is very possible with their particular version of cannabinoid medicine.

    Of course the language on a prescription drug’s warning label has to be approved by the FDA so we can pretty much conclude that it’s also the Federal government’s opinion as well.

    WARNINGS

    Patients receiving treatment with MARINOL® Capsules should be specifically warned not to drive, operate machinery, or engage in any hazardous activity until it is established that they are able to tolerate the drug and to perform such tasks safely.

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  • what the legalization of weed does in washington and colorado states is>
    that the feds cant use a local cop to ensure a trucker has been fired (for example) who has tested positive for marijuana per USDOT random drug test.
    a fed has to do it now.
    and
    the employee can sue the employer and MRO, labs in state court for wrongful termination.

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