Cracking down on drugged driving-- it's a move Vermont lawmakers and police say needs to be done, and they are considering reworking the state's law for driving under the influence. Prosecutors say for years it has been much harder to convict drugged drivers than it is to convict drunk drivers. But a proposal in Montpelier aims to change that.
Vermont has had no shortage of high-profile fatal accidents where drivers were either high or believed to be high behind the wheel. Like in September 2012, when Rutland High School student Carly Ferro was killed by an out of control driver who police say was huffing. Or just months later, when 18-year-old Benjamin Miller pleaded guilty to huffing chemicals while driving, blacking out and killing a motorcyclist.
Now a proposal in Montpelier aims to strengthen penalties in Vermont for drugged drivers.
"We are more tolerant of the drug-impaired driver than we are the alcohol-impaired driver," said legal advisor Bobby Sand.
Sand testified before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday that for years, the standards in Vermont have not been the same for drunk drivers as they are for drugged drivers.
"It is harder to prove drugged driving than it is to prove alcohol-impaired driving. From the standpoint of public safety alone and the motoring public-- that distinction does not make sense," Sand said.
The Committee is looking to change that by rewriting the state's law for driving under the influence. The current standard in Vermont for a DUI with alcohol, is a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher -- or "impairment to the slightest degree."
But for a DUI with drugs the standard is "incapable of driving safely," which prosecutors say is a challenge to prove.
"If I'm a defense attorney representing my client zealously, as is my job, I'm able to argue, 'Well, sure he was under the influence, but he didn't drive badly. So you have no evidence he was incapable of operating safely,'" said Greg Nagurney of the Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs.
The bill also proposes a zero-tolerance policy for drivers to be on certain drugs like meth, cocaine and psychedelics. Lawmakers are also considering adopting legal limits for drugs similar to the 0.08 BAC system for booze.
Police say they have been cracking down on drugged drivers and are backing the legislation for the added support.
"We saw a 40 percent jump in our evaluations that we are doing in the field and the question that is usually asked is are we seeing more drug impaired driving, or are we just getting better at detecting it? I think it's really a combination of both," said Lt. John Flannigan of the Vermont State Police.
Lawmakers are still trying to determine how prescription drugs will play into this bill, and how they will judge the impairment level of a high driver.
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