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Drunk driving declines while marijuana influence rises

While there may be more drivers in Florida and across the country testing positive for marijuana, fewer drivers are showing signs of alcohol intoxication, according to a national driver survey. The 2013-2014 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol & Drug Use by Drivers shows that the percentage of drivers under the influence of alcohol has declined 77 percent in the 41 years between 1973 and 2014.

Between 2007 and 2014, however, the number of drivers who tested positive for marijuana in blood and oral fluids tests rose by 50 percent. While marijuana users were only one subset of the drivers who tested positive for drugs, they were by far the largest group in this category. Drivers operating their vehicles under the influence of marijuana drive differently than those under the influence of alcohol. Marijuana use isn't associated with reckless or aggressive driving; instead, these drivers could have slower reactions to emergent events on the road.

The data for the study came from two federal projects of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA's national roadside studies examine alcohol and drug use among drivers by taking blood, breath and oral fluid samples from random drivers at 60 sites in various places in the United States. More data came from a Virginia Beach study that looked at drivers' alcohol and drug status. There's no clear connection to marijuana legalization; much of the data was collected before legalization or in areas where marijuana remains criminalized.

A criminal defense attorney could help people facing charges of driving under the influence. In some cases, the lawyer could challenge the traffic stop or roadside tests that were administered. In other instances, an attorney can advocate for pre-trial diversions in negotiations to help protect the clients' rights and criminal records.

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