- Office of Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito
- Governor's Press Office
- Executive Office of Public Safety and Security
Media Contact for Baker-Polito Administration Urges Passage of Impaired Driving Legislation
Sarah Finlaw, Press Secretary, Governor's Office
BOSTON — Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito today joined state officials, road safety advocates, law enforcement officials and leaders of the cannabis industry to urge passage of the Administration’s impaired driving legislation. Following the Cannabis Control Commission’s approval last month of regulations for social consumption of marijuana, the group assembled at the State House today underscored the need to pass legislation that would implement recommendations made by the Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving.
The Governor and Lt. Governor were joined by Helen Witty, National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, David Torrisi, Executive Director of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association, Cannabis Control Commissioner Britte McBride and Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael.
“As Massachusetts continues to implement adult use of marijuana, including potential social consumption sites, it’s vital that we update our impaired driving laws to ensure the safety of everyone who uses the Commonwealth’s roads,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “This legislation which draws on thoughtful recommendations from a commission of a broad cross-section of stakeholders, gives public safety officials the tools they need to combat impaired driving and keep our roads safe.”
“Our Administration is committed to working with law enforcement officials and advocates in the public and private sector to combat impaired driving and ensure the safety of our residents and communities,” said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. “We are grateful for these leaders’ support of this important legislation which will update our impaired driving laws as we confront new public safety challenges.”
According to Massachusetts crash statistics from 2013-2017, marijuana was the most prevalent drug (aside from alcohol) found in drivers involved in fatal crashes. In Colorado, where marijuana has been sold for adult use since 2014, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana increased 109 percent while traffic deaths increased 31 percent, according to a report prepared by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. Colorado also saw a marked increase in traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana which more than doubled from 55 in 2013 to 115 people killed in 2018. Since recreational marijuana was legalized, the percentage of all Colorado traffic deaths that were marijuana related increased from 15 percent in 2013 to 23 percent in 2018.
“While we trust that the overwhelming majority of adults who use cannabis will do so responsibly, our research shows that some marijuana users believe the myth that they drive better when high,” said Thomas Turco, Secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS). “It’s important that we state unequivocally that that is, in fact, a myth and that driving under the influence of cannabis is dangerous and potentially fatal.”
The Baker-Polito Administration’s bill is based on recommendations made by the Special Commission on Operating Under the Influence and Impaired Driving. The Special Commission is composed of a diverse set of stakeholders and experts, including police, prosecutors, medical and toxicological professionals, and representatives of the criminal defense bar and civil liberties community.
The proposed legislative changes in the bill include:
- Adopting implied consent laws to suspend the driver’s licenses of arrested motorists who refuse to cooperate in chemical testing for drugs, as existing law has long required for arrested motorists who refuse breath testing for alcohol.
- Adopting a statute authorizing courts to take judicial notice that ingesting THC, the active chemical in marijuana, can and does impair motorists.
- Directing the Municipal Police Training Committee (MPTC) to expand the training of drug recognition experts and allowing them to testify as expert witnesses in civil and criminal cases.
- Prohibiting drivers from having loose or unsealed packages of marijuana in the driver’s compartment of a vehicle, under the same provision of the motor vehicle code that has long prohibited driving with open containers of alcohol.
- Permitting judicial notice of the scientific validity and reliability of the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, which would make it easier for the Commonwealth to introduce the results of that test at trial to demonstrate a driver’s intoxication.
- Empowering police officers to seek electronic search warrants for evidence of chemical intoxication, as is the practice in over thirty other states. Any blood draw would have to be authorized by a neutral magistrate after a showing of probable cause and would be performed by a doctor, nurse, or other appropriate medical staff at a health care facility.
- Developing educational materials and programming on drug impairment to share with trial court judges.
The Baker-Polito Administration recently kicked off an impaired driving educational campaign designed to reach men age 18 to 34, who are the most likely to be behind the wheel in impaired driving crashes. The campaign, titled “Wisdom,” was informed by focus groups made up of cannabis and alcohol users and conducted by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security’s (EOPSS) Office of Grants and Research (OGR). The feedback was used to create TV spots featuring interviews of real people who were willing to share their perceptions about driving after consuming cannabis, alcohol, or other drugs.
“Our family – and the thousands we represent – know all too well the life-altering consequences of drunk and drugged driving,” said Helen Witty, National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “My 16-year-old daughter, Helen Marie, was out rollerblading on a bike path near our Miami home in 2000 when she was run over and killed by a teenage driver impaired on alcohol and marijuana. I landed shattered in MADD’s lap, and determined to make sure this violent, preventable crime never happened to anyone else. MADD is grateful to the Baker-Polito Administration for doing everything they can to keep people from being needlessly injured or killed by impaired drivers.”
“An important goal of the commission’s work is to protect the health and safety of the people in our state as we navigate the new reality of legal adult use of cannabis. I am pleased to be here today to support the Baker-Polito Administration and their partners in promoting the safe use of marijuana and cannabis products,” said Britte McBride, Commissioner of the Cannabis Control Commission.
“We have made educating adults about the importance of responsible use of cannabis products a priority – and we hope the Legislature takes action on this bill,” said David Torrisi, Executive Director, Commonwealth Dispensary Association. “We welcome the opportunity to join the Baker-Polito administration in stressing the importance of safe driving habits, including planning for alternate transportation if using marijuana.”
Massachusetts Data (2013-2017) from the EOPSS Office of Grants and Research:
- Marijuana was the most prevalent drug found in drivers involved in fatal crashes.
- 11 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes were found with both alcohol and drugs in their system.
- 78 percent of impaired drivers in fatal crashes were men.
- 35 percent of drunk drivers involved in a fatal crash were 21-29 years old.
- The number of drivers involved in a fatal crash who were alcohol-impaired (BAC .08+) and had drugs in their system increased by 63 percent (35 to 57).
- From 2016 to 2017, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities decreased by 19 percent (148 to 120).