The Real Problem With Fox31 Denver's Alarmist Reporting About Pot-Impaired Drivers

Last Wednesday, ostensibly seeking to illuminate the issue of "how high is too high to drive," the Fox affiliate in Denver, KDVR (a.k.a. Fox 31), aired a report implying that setting the DUI limit for marijuana at five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood would be too generous. "We wanted to find out if the five-nanogram law would be fair for Colorado drivers," says Fox 31 correspondent Mark Meredith. So the station conducted an experiment involving four medical marijuana users, a cop, and a driving simulator. "The results?" says Meredith. "While some drivers could barely handle our simulator, under the previously proposed law some of those drivers actually would have been considered safe to drive because their blood didn't show any nanograms [of THC]."

That story, especially timely now that the state legislature is mulling how to regulate the driving of newly legal pot smokers, was based on material recycled from reports that aired on May 16 and May 17, describing what an anchorwoman back then called "the shocking results of our one-of-a-kind investigation." One of the medical marijuana users who participated in that investigation, Max Montrose, claims in a YouTube video he posted last week that the simulator tests were rigged, and today Fox 31 posted a response to his criticism. But after you piece together the information from the three reports, it looks like the real problem is that Meredith misrepresents what the station actually found. Rather than showing what a menace pot-smoking drivers are, the experiment suggests (consistent with research by actual scientists) that they pose less of threat to public safety than drunk drivers do and that a per se standard is a poor measure of impairment.

Fox 31 recruited four medical marijuana users who took a driving simulation test under the watchful eye of Officer Mark Ashby, a "drug recognition expert" with the Thornton, Colorado, police department. They drove the simulator before and after consuming marijuana, and their blood was tested in both conditions. At the beginning of the experiment, two of the subjects, Montrose and a guy identified only as Justin, already tested above five nanograms, "even though they hadn't smoked or ingested marijuana all day." Those results reinforce the point that the five-nanogram limit could prohibit regular users from driving even when they have not consumed marijuana recently enough to be impaired. Montrose, whose THC level rose from six nanograms in the first test to 32 in the second, did "significantly worse" the second time around, according to Ashby. But Justin, whose THC level rose from 21 nanograms to 47, did fine in both tests. "Justin is doing pretty well," Ashby says while watching the second test. "He's being a safe driver. It's doubtful that I would have pulled him over. He hasn't shown any degree of impairment."

In his May 16 and December 5 reports, Meredith does not mention that Justin drove competently despite a THC level suggesting he was high as a kite. Instead he describes Justin's performance in the May 17 report, which focuses on a comparison between Justin and Brian, a volunteer drinker who bombs his second test, when his blood alcohol concentration is a bit more than 0.08 percent (the legal limit). "It's clear after just a few minutes that Brian's drinking is taking a heavy toll," Meredith says. 

In the May 16 report, a third medical marijuana user, Robert, goes from 1.9 nanograms in the first test to 10 in the second, and his performance worsens. "He's driving about 15 miles, 20 miles under the speed limit," says Ashby. "He's stopping before the stop lines, 10, 15 feet." The fourth subject, Fran, presents the biggest puzzle. Her performance on the second test sounds terrible, even though there is no detectable amount of THC in her blood at that point. Unlike the other subjects, she swallowed two capsules containing cannabis instead of smoking it. She did so about an hour before the second test, so it's possible, depending on what else was in her stomach, that it had not been absorbed yet. But then why did her test performance get worse? "She showed a lot of mental impairment, not only just the physical impairment," says Ashby. "She was stopping for no reason in the roadway." He says he would have pulled her over.

Since one subject showed no impairment at 47 nanograms, while another was somehow impaired at zero, these results cast doubt on the validity of not just the five-nanogram rule but any per se standard. "Somebody who smokes on a regular basis for a year is going to be able to handle more than somebody who doesn't," observes the phlebotomist who drew and tested the subjects' blood in the May 16 report. "I think there should be another way to base it on, not on five nanograms, because [marijuana] affects everybody so differently." Or as Meredith puts it toward the end of the same report, "That question really does remain unanswered tonight: Is there a fair standard that would legally show somebody who is impaired while under the influence of marijuana?"

Meredith's report last week gave quite a different impression. He does not mention that Justin drove fine at a THC level more than nine times the proposed legal limit, and he seems to transform a single anomalous subject, Fran, who drove poorly at zero nanograms, into "some drivers" who "could barely handle our simulator" even though they "would have been considered safe to drive" under a five-nanogram rule. It is hard to see how any per se standard could guard against a terrible driver with no THC in her blood. Maybe the limit should be a negative number?

In its response to Montrose's charges, Fox 31 claims it was not trying to scare people about the danger posed by pot smokers who meet the five-nanogram test. "In fact," it says, "at the 6:30 mark of Montrose's report, our Mark Meredith points out that 'some of the participants passed with flying colors' even though they were under the influence of marijuana, as defined by the previously-proposed state statute." Here is what Meredith actually says at that point in the video:

None of our volunteers put much faith in the simulator, but can you put faith in the delta-9 [THC] law when some of the volunteers who admitted they were under the influence would pass with flying colors? 

In other words, drivers who were admittedly impaired during the simulator experiment nevertheless tested below the five-nanogram limit. Again, Meredith seems to have poor Fran in mind, although he speaks in the plural. In any case, he said exactly the opposite of what Fox 31 now claims.

[Thanks to Rob Collister for the tip.]

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  • Paul.||

    Always remember, the media are not defenders of liberty, they are defenders of order and control. Unregulated industries are bad industries because they're unregulated. Where there's a dearth of rules, there are problems for government to solve, because there's a dearth of rules.

    Understand that, and stories like this won't surprise you nearly as much.

  • ||

    I'm not surprised at all. The media has a lot of power to shape public perception, control narratives, and push messages. Like anything else, who will gravitate to that? People who want to abuse it, of course.

  • Hugh Akston||

    That's the very same reason Epi works in a hospice.

  • ||

    You can't prove anything! Those people died from their illnesses!

  • ||

    Wait, I thought that hospice was there to keep Epi isolated from society.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I'm not sure they're defending order and control; maybe they're just selling whatever salacious flavor of the month.

    And who is their audience anyway? Who watches local news? I bet that audience skews old.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    The news media during my entire lifetime (fifty+years) has always pushed whatever bullshit story the local politicians were telling, always called for more government action and generally fellated the state.

    Inform the public, tell truth to power. act as the people's watchdogs? My ass.

  • Draft Tulpa 2016||

    That's not always true. The local news I watch has held politicians' feet to the fire quite a bit.

  • Paul.||

    I'll bet the audience skews government.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It's not like the hundreds of local newsrooms in the country are all coordinating to project a pro-government message.

    It's more like getting ratings by pumping every little local thing that happens up like it should be a national emergency is the way they make money.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    See also: snow forecasts.

  • Draft Tulpa 2016||

    I watch local news. It's mostly not that statist...in fact, there's a recurring series on channel 11 news here called "Is this why we're broke?" where Rick Earle probes government waste.

    You want statism, watch the national news and the morning shows.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The places I live, on just about every channel, the headlines will invariably be: "Here's What Happened: Why Isn't the Government Doing Anything About It?".

    They're nanny statists, but it's often in the same way that Rupert Murdock is a nanny statist. It's not that they're trying to sell some unified agenda; it's just the nature of their business.

    They want to be seen as crusaders who engage the community to making it a better place. And the easiest way to do that is to show pictures of people dying in the street, or whatever, and enjoining their viewers to hold public officials responsible.

    They're all Bob Costas talking about gun control. Can anybody tell me why they need Costas on that show anyway? They already have Dan Patrick on there to MC the whole thing. Costas has about as much reason to be there as your local news. And Costas knows that, so what does he do?

    He turns the tragedy of the week into an opportunity to say something engaging--about guns this time. ...just like your local news does. If they sat a hot looking weather girl right next to him, it'd be exactly like your local news.

  • Ted S.||

    I get the over the air channels out of Albany, NY. Being a state capital, there's a lot of statist crap that makes the news. Pretty much any "Public" Interest Research Group press conference is reported not only as news, but also the gospel truth. :-(

  • Draft Tulpa 2016||

    Or maybe they're just trying to get eyeballs? NEW LAW WILL KILL YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN gets a lot more viewers than MARIJUANA NOT A THREAT AFTER ALL. The fact that overstating vague threats and creating a sense of dread also benefits statists may well be a coincidence.... particularly when you consider that their breathless crime reporting is a huge contributor to driving handgun ownership, despite the fact that you have a better chance of being hit by a bus than getting mugged in most places.

  • waaminn||

    Sounds like one heck of a plan to me dude.

    www.Surfit-Anon.tk

  • SIV||

    A local news station ran an alarmist, sensationalist story designed to spark a moral panic while grossly distorting the results their own investigation to support a pre-conceived narrative?

    I'm shocked!

  • AlmightyJB||

    Yeah, it's definately a first.

    Flip side of that same coin, flipping through channels tonight and heard NBC Nightly News discussing how there has been a decline in chilhood obesity "thanks to government efforts". *BARF*

  • Bill||

    Good point. Many stories that are not alarmist are those saying a gov't program is great!

  • AlmightyJB||

    Moral indignation face is so punchable.

  • ||

    I was just thinking that.

  • Paul.||

    "He's driving about 15 miles, 20 miles under the speed limit," says Ashby. "He's stopping before the stop lines, 10, 15 feet."

    I see a lot of middle-aged moms driving Prius' which do the exact same thing, and while I can't say they're NOT stoned, I can't believe all of them are.

    Fran, who drove poorly at zero nanograms, into "some drivers" who "could barely handle our simulator" even though they "would have been considered safe to drive" under a five-nanogram rule. It is hard to see how any per se standard could guard against a terrible driver with no THC in her blood. Maybe the limit should be a negative number?

    This whole test is beginning to sound like that utterly awful test that that CBS did with Diane Sawyer where they simulated a real-world situation with a private gun owner who was sitting in a classroom where a deranged shooter entered and started killing people.

    Worst. Test. Ever.

    They took random, untrained people off the street, handed them a paintball gun and placed them in a specific place in the classroom. Then they took a trained shooter (a Cop) and told him where the gun owner was seated in the classroom. The cop enters the classroom, starts shooting at people in the classroom and immediately goes for the testee sitting in the pre-determined seat and of course 'kills him' every. single. time.

    Conclusion: See? Private gun ownership does nothing to protect people from crazy, deragned shooters.

  • Draft Tulpa 2016||

    Well, one thing about that scenario does fit the majority of cases where people are killed by a stranger.

  • AlmightyJB||

    "and of course 'kills him' every. single. time."

    The fact that the cop hit anything at all tells you how bogus that was.

  • Draft Tulpa 2016||

    Here's the link to the 20/20 "expose". The guns were real Glocks firing specially modified paint rounds, but the test was pretty horrifically unfair. The first guy had never handled a real gun before but had "experience" with airsoft pistols. The main problem with his response to the shooter was that he couldn't get the gun out of the "pop" Glock holster before he got tagged.... maybe because he was wearing a ridiculously long shirt and the holster was on the front of his belt (?!) in addition to probably never having drawn it from that holster before (the training they did beforehand did not show any practice drawing from the holster).

  • Draft Tulpa 2016||

    I have no experience with Glocks or specifically those "pop" holsters... are they unusually hard to operate? Because the student who had lots of firearms experience took cover immediately trying to get the gun out, but couldn't after several seconds.

    Also, their use of the video of that idiot DEA agent who shot himself in the foot in that classroom as evidence that "even police can have a hard time handling guns safely" was very cute.

  • AlmightyJB||

    The cop is walking into a known senerio with heightened awareness of what to expect when he enters. That does not simulate reality.

  • Draft Tulpa 2016||

    Well, I'd imagine the school shooter is not going to be surprised by what unfolds in the classroom too. He is the surprise.

  • Rights-Minimalist Autocrat||

    I think he'd be pretty surprised that there was another gun in the room.

  • Draft Tulpa 2016||

    Though one big disadvantage the students had was that they had essentially a transparent garbage can over their heads when the attack occurred.

  • Draft Tulpa 2016||

    Ah, I see. From the Amazon reviews:

    CONS:
    * No protection from sweat.
    * The quick jerk can cause you to fumble
    * The quick jerk could cause you to shoot your buddy if you're sloppy. I strongly advise a lot of practice with focus on trigger control before using a live weapon.
    * The cord is sturdy but obviously the weak point. Inspect frequently.
    * Takes some time if you want to do a silent draw. A quick draw makes a fairly loud popping sound and isn't stealthy at all.
    * Wear a sturdy belt. It takes a little finesse and force to quick draw.
    * REALLY pricy for what you get. This is probably 50 cents in molded Kydex and 18 inches of nylon cord.

    [....]

    CONS:
    * Equipping - not necessarily a flaw, since I don't know how this particular system could possibly be improved, but un-holstering does take a few tries to get used to. An advantage, if you consider someone grabbing it with the holster on.
    * Cord - the cord is made of very tough material, but it must be firmly attached to something. I don't always wear belts, so I found putting the loop of the cord through the top part of the zipper area of my jeans was a nice firm hold. Also, it can get in the way when reaching for the pistol, unless you remember to tuck it aside.
  • Bill||

    So people drive more safely when they are stoned? Is that a problem?

  • Ted S.||

    I presume the private gun owner simply turned and shot Diane Sawyer?

  • Almanian.||

    Anyone remember the side-saddle gas tanks on Chevy/GMC pickups fiasco? I think it was 20/20 - or one of those other fucking shows I've never watched - that wired in something to blow up the gas tank.

    And "runaway accelerationZOMFG!!11!" in Audi 5000's? An impossibility (if the brakes are functional) that almost ruined Audi. And it turned out they had some backyard mechanic gen up some stuff in the engine to increase vaccuum and trans pressure abnormally to make the car accelerate.

    Anyway - those were the events that turned me the full 180 to never, ever believe anything from the media at face value. Fuck 'em.

    PS As a former BIG TIME pot smoker, and heavy drinker...c'mon, anyone who does both knows teh alkyhol is WAY dangerous for driving ,and the pot...just isn't an issue.

  • BigT||

    I've smoked for 40+ years. Pot definitely impairs one's reflexes. The difference is that I can force myself to focus and concentrate when stoned; not when drunk.

    And 20 feels like 80. The errors are errors of over caution and uncertainty when stoned. The errors are bravado and recklessness when buzzed on booze.

  • ||

    If you smoke pot and can drive and behave normally why are you smoking pot?

    Sounds like a waste of money.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Wilco: Passenger Side

    Hey, wake up, your eyes weren't open wide
    For the last couple of miles you've been swerving from side to side
    You're gonna make me spill my beer,
    If you don't learn how to steer

    Passenger side, passenger side,
    I don't like riding on the passenger side

    Roll another number for the road
    You're the only sober person I know
    Won't you let me make you a deal,
    Just get behind the wheel

    Passenger side, passenger side,
    I don't like riding on the passenger side

    Should've been the driver, could've been the one
    I should've been your lover, but I hadn't seen...

    Can you take me to the store, then the bank?
    I've got five dollars we can put in the tank
    I've got a court date coming this June
    I'll be driving soon

    Passenger side, passenger side,
    I don't like riding on the passenger side
    I don't like riding on the passenger side

  • ||

    +Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Listening to it. Strumming along. It's beautiful...

  • Paul.||

    I believe that was a show called Hard Copy.

    But I'm working off memory and I'm too lazy to google it.

  • Draft Tulpa 2016||

    The pickup truck explosions were Dateline NBC. Not sure about the Audis.

  • SIV||

    The Audis. I regret not picking a used one up back when they were still under the "unintended acceleration" stigma.

    Audi sold mostly sticks in Europe. They offered slushboxes for doofus Americans.
    The gas and break pedals remained in essentially the same location (right next to each other). Most American buyers of auto trans Audis previous experience was with American cars equipped with slushbox transmissions. ((Mostly GMs, IIRC). Those cars had the brake and gas pedal over 12" apart.

    ALL "unintended acceleration" was caused by panicked drivers pressing the gas AND the brake pedals. Sometimes just the gas. When they "intended" to hit the brakes. Driver error not design error, and most certainly NOT a mechanical problem.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "PS As a former BIG TIME pot smoker, and heavy drinker...c'mon, anyone who does both knows teh alkyhol is WAY dangerous for driving ,and the pot...just isn't an issue."

    It depends on how often you do it.

    Regular smokers have less trouble driving than regular drinkers have trouble driving, but people who only smoke once in a blue moon might be lucky to figure out what gear they're in--and that just ain't so with drivers who only drink once in a blue moon.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    OMG THe Patriarchy!

  • 4tehsnowflakes||

    The prosecutors want a bright line rule for impairment (like X nanograms or .08 BAC) even though some people perform as if unimpaired while over that line. A more just rule would be more subjective, like "it is unlawful to drive if impairment is sufficient to cause you to be unable to drive safely." The bright line rule is easier to get convictions but overinclusive (it catches some people who are not too impaired) and also a little bit underinclusive (it lets off a few people who are too impaired).

    In practice people who drive safely even though technically impaired under the applicable law will usually get away with it unless they are unlucky enough to be involved in an accident caused by someone else.

  • ||

    The most just rule would be "driving unsafely." It shouldn't matter what impairment or lack of one is causing it.

  • ||

    I agree with this, since conditions such as low-blood sugar in diabetics or seizure disorders can lead to accidents and require an endorsement for a valid driver's license, as does a physician's recommendation for revoking/permitting licensure when ocular conditions are present/resolved, such as cataracts.

    Heck, even being sleep deprived or being narcoleptic can be just as bad, or not worse, than being chemically impaired whilst driving.

    If there must be a bright line, either make it zero point zero or prosecute actual accidents. I don't see any real difference b'twixt swerving into oncoming traffic, driving too slowly and impeding traffic, or driving 60 mph in a school zone because of either having too much alcohol, drugs (prescription or otherwise), sleep deprivation, limiting medical condition, or if one is just a garden variety aggressive driver asshole.

  • 4tehsnowflakes||

    Using a standard ("unsafely") rather than a bright line as a law brings its own problems. The decision whether to arrest and charge someone then involves more, not less discretion by police and prosecutors. More work for trial lawyers because fewer cases have a predictable outcome, and the courts have a more difficult job determining guilt. If all that translated into fewer cases of people charged who were not endangering anyone, then it might be worth it. But I don't see it happening soon outside Libertopia.

  • Shmurphy||

    So how about this: if you crash, you get punished for that. If you don't, then you don't.

  • A Serious Man||

    North Korea successfully raunches rong range rocket.

    So alreday Jr has one-upped dad.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    Best Gingerbread "HOUSE" ever?

  • ||

    It’s amazing how many things I like (or used to like) that have been ruined for me by the patriarchy. Once your eyes are opened to all the casual misogyny and sexism that’s made its way into everyday life — well, it’s hard to look the other way. (I know — I threw up in my mouth a little reading that, too.)

    I can't imagine living such a delusional life.

  • ||

    Ooops that's to your other link!

  • ||

    Damn you Firefly, and your patriarchal attitudes towards space combat!

  • ||

    Da!

  • A Serious Man||

    Nice. I'm planning on making a gingerbread Enterprise-D with this girl I'm seeing.

  • ||

    You're going to use the girl as material to make an Enterprise-D Your Girl Scout cookies are made with real Girl Scouts, aren't they? -)))

  • A Serious Man||

    I suffer for my art.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

  • A Serious Man||

    I guess "with this girl I'm seeing" doesn't convey that she's a busty redhead.

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

    busty redhead

    Is her name Busty St. Claire?
    Chesty LaRue?
    Hooty McBoob?

  • A Serious Man||

  • ||

    Ginger Bazungas

  • ||

    A Serious Man
    Creates Christmas confections
    With Ginger women

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I keed. I keed. Anyway, Serious aren't you finishing your studies this week? Or do you have another semester?

    Also, we live on the same side of town. So at some point we have to get together and have a whiskey. I say The Holidays are a perfect excuse. What say you?

  • Archduke Pantsfan||

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    RIP, oh twangy one.

  • SIV||

    RIP

    But hey he was 92 and still professionally active up till the last.

  • JeremyR||

    He was great on The Simpsons.

  • Paul.||

    Why don't the cops use the same metric they used before marijuana was legal?

  • waaminn||

    Dude is talking a LOT of smack over there.

    www.Surfit-Privacy.tk

  • Reverendcaptain||

    Jeez, I'm all for legalizing ALL drugs but I'm not going to find myself defending using and driving. I'm sure this news report was full of exaggerations and hype but jesus christ, people on here are actually suggesting that people shouldn't be popped until after an accident? Are you nuts?

    Here's the deal, smoke all you friggin want. I don't care. I want you to be able to smoke all day long. But don't drive. It's real simple.

    I'm not a marijuana induced driving expert so I don't know how many nanograms a person should have in their body but if pot is legal it's a pretty straight forward concept that you don't want a bunch of jackasses crowding the highways while stoned. Oh yeah, I know a lot of people who think they drive better when they're stoned but guess what...they're stoned morons.

    And please, the whole comparison with alcohol is really getting tiresome. Please get over it. I don't give a damn how much less lethal you are than some random drunk. You're still impaired and frankly, you've probably been drinking as well.

    Grow up jackasses.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I don't think anybody here is really defending stoned driving. I think they're talking about how enforcement should work. There's a legitimate question there about whether trace amounts in your bloodstream days after you were stoned should land you in jail.

    Give us a break. People have been justifying the drug war based on the suggestion that it will kill mothers and children on the road for more than forty years now--and we've got forty years of pent up inertia against those arguments still in our system.

    Hell, we've only had about three and a half weeks to cope with this change--and it's only happening in a couple of states. It takes people a while to shift gears, but, yeah, I don't think anybody's really defending driving while stoned. Pointing out that it isn't much different than driving drunk isn't meant to justify driving stoned anymore than it's meant to justify driving drunk.

    It's just pointing out that these problems aren't unprecedented.

  • nicole||

    You're still impaired and frankly, you've probably been drinking as well.

    Citation, pls.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Grow up jackasses.

    Compelling.

    Don't you have a soccer game, or ballet recital to go to, Mom?

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