While driving under the influence of some drugs - even those perfectly legal to buy and ingest - can be just as dangerous as getting behind the wheel after too much alcohol, the practice can be more difficult for police to detect and prove. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin wants West Virginia legislators to make the job easier for law enforcement officers.
Tomblin is proposing amendments to state law that would allow police to test drivers for drugs, in ways similar to how motorists now can be tested for alcohol consumption.
That would give the authorities one more weapon to battle the drug abuse epidemic that has swept West Virginia. Our state has the highest rate of drug overdoses in the nation, according to federal officials. As many as one-tenth of Mountain State residents have drug abuse problems.
In addition, new laws on doping while driving could save lives. Even though users of some drugs, especially marijuana, insist their safety is not impaired when they use and drive, any substance that affects the body and/or mind can be dangerous. That includes some legal drugs, which manufacturers warn against taking, then driving.
Only about 1,000 motorists were arrested for driving while drugged last year. That is about one-tenth the number pulled over for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Police said that while it is easy to detect drunken drivers through use of devices such as breath testers, confirming drug use can be much more difficult. Special blood or urine tests may be necessary, and obtaining court orders to take the samples needed for such examinations can be difficult and time-consuming. As one officer told the Associated Press, by the time a judge issues a warrant allowing collection of a sample, the drug may have passed out of a suspect's system.
Cracking down on doped drivers will be tougher than dealing with motorists who abuse alcohol. Tomblin is right to ask legislators to begin looking at the challenge, and passing laws to make the task easier for police.
Lawmakers should go along with the governor's recommendation.