In late May 2017, world-renowned golfer Tiger Woods was arrested in Florida on suspicion of drunk driving. As it turned out, he was not under the influence of alcohol but was instead impaired by a combination of prescription medications he was taking for back pain.
This incident highlighted the increasing problem across the country of people driving while taking drugs. Illegal street drugs, over-the-counter medications, and prescription medications can impair driving ability, and it's illegal in every state to drive while under the influence of any mind-altering substance. However, preventing and prosecuting drugged driving presents some unique challenges.
Why Drugged Driving Is So Hard to Stop
It may seem that detecting and stopping a drugged driver is no different than stopping a drunk driver. In fact, there's a great deal of success in reducing drunk driving rates across the country, so why is drugged driving on the rise?
In a new report about the dangers of drug-impaired driving, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) cites the following challenges as major obstacles to stopping drugged driving:
- Hundreds of different drugs can impair drivers.
- Some drugs that can impair driving are illegal to use, some are legal to use under certain conditions, and some are freely available over-the-counter.
- For many drugs, the relationship between its presence in the body, its effect on driving, and its effects on crash risk are complex, not understood well, and vary from driver to driver.
- Data on drug presence in crash-involved drivers is incomplete in most jurisdictions, inconsistent from state-to-state, and is sometimes inconsistent across jurisdictions within states.
- It’s more difficult for law enforcement to detect drug impairment at the roadside than alcohol impairment.
- Laws regarding driving while under the influence of drugs (DUID) vary across the states.
- It’s more difficult to prosecute and convict a driver for DUID than for alcohol-impaired driving (DUI).
While a simple roadside breath test can screen for alcohol use, there's no such test to check for drug use, so while roadblocks are usually successful to curb drunk driving at high-risk times, they cannot be used in the same way to catch drugged drivers.
How Common Is Drugged Driving?
The answer to this question is not really known, thus contributing to the problem of drugged driving. However, the available data reveals surprisingly high rates of drug use among drivers.
A roadside survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2013-2014 found that over 22 percent of drivers stopped tested positive for some kind of drug (medication, marijuana, or other illegal drugs), while only 1.1 percent (8.3 percent on weekend nights) tested positive for alcohol.
Additional data comes from fatal accidents. When a driver is killed in a car accident, he or she is often tested for both drugs and alcohol in the system. Data compiled in 2015 revealed that nearly 42 percent of fatally-injured drivers tested positive for a drug, while only 37 percent tested positive for alcohol.
What Can We Do to Stop Drugged Driving?
The GHSA makes several recommendations for states to begin to get a handle on the problem of drugged driving, including the following:
- Education. Just as it has taken time for people to understand the dangers of drinking and driving, it will take time for people to learn which drugs can impair their driving and when they shouldn’t drive.
- Laws. State legislatures need to get ahead of this problem and establish zero-tolerance programs for drugged driving. Any state that distinguishes between drunk driving and other kinds of impaired driving needs to examine their policies.
- Training. Law enforcement officers must be trained to recognize the signs of drugged driving, and prosecutors and judges must be trained in the dangers of drugged driving.
- Testing. All fatally-injured drivers should be tested for drugs, as should all drivers arrested under suspicion of DUI. Not only will this help with gathering statistics, but also hold impaired drivers accountable.
What If the Driver Who Hit You Was on Drugs?
The possibility of drug impairment is becoming an issue in many car accident cases. If another driver caused your car accident and tested negative for alcohol, he may have been impaired by an illegal drug or even a prescription medication.
Have You Been Injured In A Kansas City Area Car Accident?
If you've been injured in a car accident you need to speak with an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.