Can You Get A DUI From Driving High?

By Mark G. McLaughlin

The clear, simple answer to the question “Can I get a DUI for driving high?” is “yes.” And that is an unequivocal yes, according to California law. Here are a few things you should know about how driving high affects your performance behind the wheel – and what it will cost you.

How does being high from smoking weed affect your driving?

Police officers can spot a driver who is high on weed quite easily. Unlike drivers under the influence of alcohol, who tend to speed and swerve and otherwise act recklessly, those on weed tend to drive in a very mellow manner. They go unusually slow. They do silly things like stop at stop signs and wait for them to change (as if they were stop lights). In other words, they do things that will attract the attention of an officer who is concerned that the driver may be ill or otherwise impaired.

Driving high is also dangerous to the driver, his passengers and others on the road – or even pedestrians on the sidewalk. Cannabis products affect users’ ability to judge distances and speeds, significantly impairs their ability to react to sudden changes in traffic or road conditions, and reduces their concentration, making them more likely to become distracted drivers. Driving while high makes it harder to change lanes safely, steer properly – even under ideal road conditions – or even park properly. Put simply, people who drive high tend to make bad decisions – often with fatal or at least serious consequences.

How do cops test to determine if a driver is high on weed?

Policemen who stop a driver suspected of driving under the influence have many ways to test if the driver is indeed high. These range from the simple, tried-and-true roadside tests to simply getting a strong whiff of weed when the driver rolls down the window to hand an office her license and registration. Many officers also look for telltale physical signs such as red or watery eyes or bumps on the tongue. There are medical toxicology tests as well, usually administered down at the police station, which check for THC levels in the blood.

What does a DUI from weed cost you?

Driving stoned is not only illegal, but it is also costly, especially in California. The fine for a first-time offender can be as high (no pun intended) as $2,500. That does not include paying the fees for having the car towed (as police will not let a driver keep going or even leave their car in a parking lot). The car is towed to a police impoundment lot, which charges well over $125 a day in storage fees – and is always in a place that is about as inconvenient and difficult to get to as possible. Due to the paperwork involved, this means the car will be in the lot for about five days – so that means you will need about $700, and usually in cash. That also means someone will have to drive you to get your car, or, worse, you will have to take a combination of public transportation and a taxi/Uber/Lyft to get there – at an added expense.

The above and fees, however, are the least expensive of the many penalties for being convicted of a DUI. For one thing, your insurance rate will jump by at least $400, depending on the driver's age and driving history. A judge may also suspend or revoke the driver's license, which requires time and money (at least $100) to get back. Multiple convictions increase these costs exponentially, which means drivers charged with yet another DUI will need a lawyer – and that can cost between $4,000 to $15,000, or more. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office estimates that even a first-time offender could be looking at over $15,000 in costs, and that is not counting any lawsuits that might come about if the driver injured anyone or caused any property damage while under the influence.

The long-term cost: a DUI on your permanent record

You know that “permanent record” teachers so often warn about? Well, it exists, at least in the legal world. Getting a DUI means you now have a police record. That can seriously impair your ability to get a job, a security clearance or even join the military let alone any other governmental organizations. Put simply, getting caught driving while high is going to cost a lot more than money.