In a bid to raise safety awareness this holiday season, Oregon Governor Kate Brown has declared December to be “3D Month”, a term which, according to Bend TV station KTVZ, is shorthand for “Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Month.” Or, as the station’s web headline succinctly puts it: “Reminder: Recreational pot legal, DUII is not.”
The article quotes the head of the Governor’s Advisory Committee on DUII noting that “drivers have a responsibility to drive sober and to not use imparing substances… we want to keep people from making a poor choice that harms themselves and others.”
From a legal perspective the key phrase here is “imparing substances.” DUII in Oregon is covered by Chapter 813 of the Oregon Revised Statutes. Section 813.010 defines the offense as operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol level of “0.08 percent or more” or while “under the influence of… a controlled substance or an inhalant or” any combination of those three things. Put another way, from a legal perspective the question is not so much what you have consumed but whether it affects our ability to drive a car or truck. If it does (and pot definitely falls into that category) then it makes you subject to DUII penalties even if alcohol as such is not involved.
Under Oregon law, repeat offenses are especially grave. ORS 813.011 stipulates that a second DUII conviction in a 10-year period is a Class C felony requiring a minimum 90 day jail sentence. The law explicitly states that the second offense provision applies across state lines, meaning that an Oregon DUII conviction can count as a second offense even if the first offense was committed years earlier in a different state.
Lest anyone think that all of this is only theoretical, KTVZ quotes state statistics showing that the Oregon State police investigated 724 crashes during the 2015 holiday period (roughly mid-December through New Year’s – in 2016-17 this will be defined as December 16 through January 3). During last year’s holiday period the OSP made 156 DUII arrests, according to the TV station.
The fact that New Year’s Day 2017 falls on a Sunday makes this year an especially dangerous one to be out on the road. It means that many people will also have January 2 off work – an extended holiday period that almost always makes for increased partying on what is already the most dangerous time of the year to be on the road.
As a Portland attorney with a practice focusing on car accidents and helping the victims of DUII I hope everyone will remember to celebrate safely this year. With recreational pot use not legal in Oregon people need to be especially mindful of the combination of marijuana and alcohol, and to understand that mixing these two substances can leave one much more impaired than one might think. As KTVZ reports, quoting the head of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Impaired Driver Program: “There continues to be this myth that marijuana doesn’t affect a person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle, but evidence shows that it does.” Staying safe this holiday season means remembering that it isn’t just drunk driving that it against the law – it’s “impaired driving”, and that term includes pot.
The Oregonian: Marijuana and driving: What you need to know (FAQs)