Delaware County Juvenile Court Officials reported this week they are seeing a decrease in impaired driving in juveniles, but are seeing an increase in juveniles driving under the influence of drugs.
Delaware County Juvenile and Probate Judge David Hejmanowski reports that the juvenile court handled 12 juvenile cases of operating vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs in 2014, nine of which were alcohol-related and three were drug-related.
In 2015, the juvenile court had 11 OVI cases, nine alcohol-related and two drug-related.
Hejmanowski said on Wednesday that so far in 2016 the juvenile court has had eight OVI cases this year, four alcohol-related and four drug-related.
Hejmanowski said one of the reasons for this trend is the increase in education about drunk driving.
“We’ve done a good job for a long time of education about the dangers of drunk driving and distracted driving,” Hejmanowski said. He praised groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and SAFE Delaware and instruction done by local school resource officers for the decrease in drunk driving.
He added that years ago OVI cases related to drugs were extremely rare and the law is still working on the best ways to determine impairment, since breathalyzers are ineffective for drugs.
City of Delaware Police Captain Adam Moore similarly said that one challenge is that alcohol and drugs affect people in different ways and it’s difficult to establish a standard for impairment.
Moore said another reason for this trend is the changing social attitudes about marijuana.
“It’s an ongoing conversation in Ohio and across the country,” Moore said. “Legalization leads to normalization and there’s always a fear of normalizing dangerous behavior. It’s absolutely dangerous to mix substances and vehicles. None of those effects are good for driving.”
Delaware Police Officer John Hartman is a school resource officer at Dempsey and the Delaware City Schools Elementary Schools. He said juveniles’ attitudes about marijuana have changed in recent years.
“They have a whole different perspective now,” Hartman said. “Using (marijuana) is more acceptable now in their minds.”
Hartman said juveniles seem to understand the dangers and consequences of driving drunk, but said “there’s a disconnect” about driving under the influence of drugs.
“The consequences aren’t there because of marijuana’s acceptance,” Hartman said. “They are in their formative years and are good at rationalizing their behavior. We have to give them the tools they will need later in life (to make the right decisions.)”
Hartman said a big part of changing juvenile’s perceptions of drugs is what happens in their home and what a family reinforces.
“There’s so much you have to rely on through the home,” Hartman said. “The home has a huge impact on juvenile’s perceptions. Talk to your kids.”
Hejmanowski said broadly speaking juveniles who are adjudicated on OVI charges typically lose their license for a year, have to pay fines and usually go through drug and alcohol treatment programs. Hejmanowski said juvenile OVI adjudications are usually six points on a license and will require them to carry high-risk insurance.
Hejmanowski added that the juvenile court system is currently establishing best practices and educating court officials in order to keep up with the trend.
“It’s important for juvenile judges to get that education because we don’t get that many of these cases,” Hejmanowski said. “It’s indicative of the fact that the legal system is still going through growing pains.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.