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Drugged Driving: The New Drunk Driving?

Posted by John C. Taylor | May 23, 2016 | 0 Comments

Drivers caught driving under the influence may be using drugs, not alcohol

Even as teenagers, before we can legally drink, we are warned about the dangers of drinking and driving. Television campaigns portray devastating accidents caused by drunk driving to deter the behavior, and those involved in accidents caused by drunk driving speak at high schools and colleges in hopes of preventing future accidents.

However, alcohol is not the only substance that drivers should avoid while they are operating their vehicles. The use of certain drugs, both illegal and legal, can severely impair drivers, making the operation of a vehicle reckless and even deadly.

In a 2010 study, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, reported that alcohol levels above the legal limit were reported in 21 percent of drivers killed in traffic accidents. In about 18 percent of driver deaths, drugs other than alcohol were reportedly found in the drivers' blood. Further, 17 percent of driver fatalities were allegedly caused by both drug and alcohol use.

Interestingly, the time of day makes a difference in whether one is more likely to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The NHTSA's 2013-2014 National Roadside Survey noted that over 22 percent of drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs, both for weekday daytime and weekend nighttime drivers. However, illegal drug use increased as the sun went down, whereas prescription drug use actually decreased. Additionally, 1.1 percent of drivers tested positive for alcohol during weekdays, but this percentage increased to 8.3 percent on weekend nights.

As far as the drugs to blame for drugged driving accidents, marijuana usage is the second most common substance involved in traffic accidents after alcohol. Marijuana can cause drivers to weave between lanes and lead to a decrease in reaction times. It can also distract drivers from paying attention to the road.

Cocaine was also a popular culprit in fatal traffic accidents. Cocaine has been reported to lead to an increase in speeding, the loss of control of a vehicle, inattentive driving, and even making turns in front of other cars. Further, once a cocaine user's high begins to fade away, the user will become sleepy and inattentive, a dangerous combination for one behind the wheel.

As for prescription drugs, simply having a prescription does not mean that a driver will not face charges for driving under the influence. If the driver is impaired and causes an accident, that driver has broken the law. The most popular prescription drugs that reportedly caused accidents were Xanax, Vicodin, OxyContin, and Valium.

Stopping the trend

Drugged driving is a broader issue than drunk driving, since it involves a number of demographics and drug users. Michel Perron, the head of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, commented to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “We need to develop specific and targeted awareness messages for each group of people since drugged driving applies to different demographic groups, such as youth smoking marijuana while driving, or elderly drivers who may be taking prescription medicine for various ailments.”

In states where drugs that were previously illegal, like marijuana, are now legal, the issue is complex. Colorado and Washington have already taken steps to address “driving while high” with their “drive high, get a DUI” campaigns. These laws will certainly face unique challenges, however. For example, whereas alcohol leaves the body in a matter of hours, marijuana may be detected in a user's bloodstream for several days. The amount of marijuana detected varied depending on how often an individual used it. It is not clear how marijuana detected in the body days after the last use impact a driver, if at all.

Contact our experienced Murfreesboro DUI defense attorneys if you have been charged with DUI

At Dotson & Taylor, our attorneys are experienced in defending drivers against DUI charges that stem from alcohol or drug usage. A defense will be stronger the sooner it begins after being charged, so do not delay in contacting us to set up your free consultation. Call us at 615-890-1982 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.

About the Author

John C. Taylor

John C. Taylor is a Murfreesboro native and a graduate of Oakland High School. He earned his bachelor's degree from Furman University in Greenville, SC, where he participated in the Furman Advantage Research program, studying religion in American politics. John also earned his Master's degree.


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