Marijuana DUI and Bicyclists

By Bay Area Bicycle Law, October 24, 2019 

Marijuana has been legal in California for recreational use since late 2016, and this is bad news for cyclists. According to a Forbes article, drugs have now outpaced alcohol as a primary factor in DUI fatalities.

In 2016, 44 percent of fatally-injured drivers tested positive for drugs—up from 28 percent in 2006. While alcohol DUI fatalities dropped from 41 percent to 38 percent. Of all the drug impaired fatalities, marijuana was present in half of these.

Weed Impairment and Bicycle Accidents

Cyclists are especially vulnerable to serious injuries and fatalities when struck by motor vehicles. This is primarily because of the relative lack of protection a cyclist has when riding their bike, and because a cyclist gets ejected and hits the pavement in just about every collision with a motorist. Impaired drivers pose a significant risk to cyclists because of their vulnerability compared to a motor vehicle. Being outweighed by a factor of 20, a simple bump from a car or truck can bring severe injuries to a cyclist.

Cyclist Killed by Allegedly Drugged Driver

In a recent example, a 21-year-old woman was driving her car on Cherry Avenue just south of North Avenue in Fresno when she rear-ended a cyclist riding in front of her. The cyclist was ejected from his bike, and the driver veered off the road, over a curb and stopped at a chain-link fence. The cyclist died at the scene from his injuries.

Police report smelling a strong order of recently burned marijuana and suspected the driver of driving under the influence of drugs. Police arrested her and charged her with impaired driving and vehicular homicide.  (For more information, read The Fresno Bee)

Marijuana Impaired Driving Laws

This scene is being played out across cities in California and in other states that have legalized pot for recreational use. However, at least in California, the law for a DUI hasn’t specifically addressed marijuana impairment.

Under current Impaired driving laws in California, alcohol impairment is specifically defined, (.08 BAC) but, marijuana is not. California Vehicle Code Section 23152 says that it is “unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”

But it doesn’t define what under the influence means for marijuana. Instead, police have to do a field sobriety test which is notoriously subjective and inaccurate. A blood test can determine if the person has traces of THC in their system, but since THC stays in a person’s system for 30 days, that doesn’t prove the driver was actually impaired at the time they were driving.

Marijuana Breathalyzer Test

A California company has produced a breathalyzer test that will detect THC in a person’s breath down to so many parts per trillion. This gives them a very accurate reading of how much THC is in the lungs and breath. THC stays in the breath up to two hours after smoking, which is the time of maximum impairment.

Without this test, a driver could be stone cold sober but have THC in their system from the day before. If they don’t do well reciting the alphabet backwards or walking a straight line, then they could be charged and convicted with a DUI.

As of October 23, 2019, there have been tests on the new breathalyzers, but they haven’t been put to widespread use. California law enforcement are expected to start using them in 2020.

DUI Bicycle Accident Injuries

The real benefit of a marijuana breathalyzer is to get those actually impaired off the street. This will make cycling—especially at night—safer for all cyclists. Currently, almost 25 percent of all DUI accidents are caused by marijuana impairment. A cyclist getting hit by an impaired driver can expect certain injuries that are common to bicycle accidents. Some of these are:

  • Traumatic Brain Injuries
  • Severe Concussions
  • Wrist Fractures
  • Broken Arms/Legs
  • Chest Compressions
  • Internal Injuries/Bleeding
  • Severe Road Rash

The law firm which wrote this blog is the only law firm in Northern California devoted to bicycle crashes. To contact them, call 415-466-8717 TOLL-FREE 866-Bicycle-Law.  They have offices in Oakland, Palo Alto and Sacramento.