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Driving while high, hard to prove

August 12, 2008 |  2:09 pm

Any emergency room worker or highway patrol officer could tell you that illegal drug use and traffic accidents have a cause and effect connection. But proving it scientifically has been difficult.

Now, the National Institutes of Health has released research guidelines aimed at coming up with tests for drug abuse that are as quick and simple as using a Breathalyzer to test for alcohol use. The guidelines are published in the August journal Addiction. Experts hope that soon, someone suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana or cocaine might be asked to spit into a cup, just as suspected drunk drivers are asked to blow into a Breathalyzer.

What experts do know is scary enough. In 2001, according to a national survey, 3.6% of the U.S. population, or 8 million people, reported driving under the influence of illegal drugs. A Department of Transportation study found that marijuana alters a driver's perception of time, space and distance, and that cocaine use causes drivers to speed and change lanes without signaling.

Experts hope the new guidelines will lead to consistent ways to identify drugged drivers -- and keep them off the roads.

-- Susan Brink