House lawmakers may consider drugged driving bill


Lawmakers are clear that they don't want drivers on drugs, but they're not sure what to do about it and are beginning to run out of time this session.

The House Judiciary Committee last week said it may consider setting standards for drugged driving.

The committee plans to hear from four experts about DUI Wednesday morning, according to its online schedule.

This topic arose in part because the law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana that passed last year called for a task force to examine laws surrounding driving under the influence of drugs. The task force did not arrive at a single recommendation for how to set the law.

House Judiciary does not have a bill before it but last week discussed the possibility of introducing a committee bill, since the deadline to file individual bills has passed. They could also modify H.501, a related bill filed by Rep. David Potter, D-North Clarendon.

Higher standard of proof

In Vermont there is a higher standard of proof for drugged driving than there is for driving under the influence of alcohol.

The standard for DUI-alcohol in Vermont is a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. The court has also set a second standard of "impairment to the slightest degree."

To charge someone with DUI-drugs, however, prosecutors must prove the person was incapable of driving safely.

"That's almost impossible to prove," said Rep. Thomas Koch, R/D-Barre.

"We need something stronger and I think we should use the same standard that we have for alcohol," he said.

The committee Thursday considered language proposed by legislative attorney Erik FitzPatrick that would raise the drugged driving standard to "impairment to the slightest degree."

Some other states have a "per se" limit for drugs, as there is for alcohol.

Some set the "per se" limit for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, at an amount such as 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. Other states forbid any amount of a prohibited drug while driving.

Some committee members last week said they were not sure if creating a more specific standard would actually deter drivers from driving while on drugs. Some studies show per se limits do not reduce traffic fatalities.

Chairman Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, said there's no question drugged driving is dangerous, but he is not sure what kind of solution is in reach.

"I don't care why you're impaired on the road, I don't want you on the road," Lippert said.

Lippert suggested asking law enforcement witnesses to explain how the current statute works in real life.

Koch said he hopes the committee comes up with a solution soon.

"I hope we keep working on it and bring something out before crossover," he said.


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