Vt. Bill Adds Drugs to ‘D’ in ‘DUI’

Friday, March 14, 2014
Montpelier — Vermont House members this week gave preliminary approval to a bill that establishes the same standard for drugged driving as for drunk driving.

The bill changes the law to use the same definition for “under the influence” of drugs as has been established for alcohol.

Current law says drugged driving can only be proven if a person demonstrates unsafe driving, which makes it nearly impossible to charge someone with drugged driving, police told the committee during testimony last month.

Meanwhile, the Vermont Supreme Court has ruled that “under the influence” of alcohol means that a person’s full mental or physical abilities are diminished to the slightest degree.

The tougher drugged driving standard often renders police helpless, law enforcement officials said, if they pull someone over for a different reason, and then find out the person is on drugs.

In that situation they could only charge the person with drugged driving if they had seen the person driving unsafely.

The bill changes the law to say a person shall not operate a vehicle “when the person is under the influence of any other drug or under the combined influence of alcohol and any other drug.”

There is also a second standard for proving someone is under the influence of alcohol — a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher.

Other states have limits for DUI-drugged, such as 2 nanograms of marijuana per milliliter of blood.

The bill Wednesday afternoon was ordered to a third reading on a roll call vote of 138-2.

Rep. Carolyn Branagan, R-Georgia, voted no.

“This bill leaves too many chances for mistakes and has too many opportunities for misinterpretation,” she said, according to the House Journal. “Let’s hope the Senate can tighten up the language.”

Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, also voted no.

“A person who is affected in the slightest degree by a medication is not necessarily in the least bit impaired,” Donahue said, according to the journal.

Rep. Richard Marek, D-Newfane, voted yes.

“The ‘slightest degree’ standard used in this bill has been carefully interpreted by our Supreme Court,” he said. “Use of some different wording would simply confuse matters.”

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