Official seeks law targeting drugged drivers

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - A Summit County Council member wants to
require blood tests similar to those used on drunken drivers for motorists who are under the influence of drugs.
"We are one of the few states that has specific levels of DUI testing for all three fluids -- blood, urine and breath," said forensic toxicologist James L. Ferguson of the Franklin County coroner's office. "But there is nothing on the books in Ohio that requires a blood test to prove impairment by drugs."
County Councilman Paul Gallagher planned to introduce
legislation Monday which would require the county to test the blood of drivers who are determined to be driving under the influence of drugs, specifically cocaine or marijuana.
"It's difficult to prove impairment when drugs are involved," said Gallagher, who is an assistant prosecutor in Portage County. "A Breathalyzer test or urine samples are not reliable for drug tests."
Marijuana may not have the same effect on hand-eye coordination as alcohol, but it can hurt perceptual functions such as judging speed and determining distance, Ferguson said.
He cited a statewide study of 1,000 coroner's office cases
involving car wrecks. The study found that 85 percent of the time, alcohol, cocaine, marijuana or other "drugs of abuse" were involved.
Hawaii and New York are the only two states that have statutes for driving under the influence of drugs that are separate from their drunken-driving statutes.
In the 48 other states, a driver violates a drunken-driving
statute if he or she is driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of both.
Gallagher's legislation would not change any penalties.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)