Posted by Louthian Law Firm, P.A on 08/08/2018

Drunk Drivers Get Attention. Drugged Drivers are Becoming More Common.

If you or a loved one is injured or killed by an impaired driver, the substance that influenced the driver doesn’t matter to you. Mistakes were made, the law has been broken and harm has been done. Often drivers are using drugs, both legal and illegal, sometimes in combination with alcohol, before getting behind the wheel and posing a hazard to everyone on the road.

Each person responds to a drug in their own unique way, so whether or how much a person will be impaired by a given substance is at best an educated guess. This is true of illegal, prescription and over the counter drugs, especially if a drug is used in combination with others. If you add alcohol  or fatigue to the mix, or if the person is very agitated or emotional about something, you may have a toxic stew that could end in a vehicle accident with injuries or deaths.

Drugs impact drivers differently

Drugs differ in how they impact the brain and impair a person’s driving performance, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

  • Marijuana may slow your reaction time, impair your judgment of time and space, and your coordination may suffer. You may be prone to weaving in and out of lanes, and your attention to the road may be altered.
  • Cocaine or methamphetamine use can result in drivers being aggressive and reckless.
  • Benzodiazepines, a type of sedative, can cause dizziness and drowsiness.

Just because you buy a medication over the counter (OTC) doesn’t mean you can use it and drive safely, especially if you also drink alcohol or use other drugs at the same time. You may feel the effects of OTC medicines right after you take them. Their effects may last for several hours, and a medicine can result in  what may feel like a hangover the next day, according to the Food and Drug Administration. If you’re not getting enough sleep and use an OTC medication that can causes drowsiness before driving, you may fall asleep behind the wheel or become easily distracted, all of which could cause an accident.

Millions of Americans drive while under the influence of drugs

The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that about 20.7 million people 16 or older drove under the influence of alcohol in the year prior to the survey and 11.8 million drove under the influence of illegal drugs. There could’ve been millions more whose driving was impaired by prescription and over the counter drugs as well.

The survey’s findings also show men are more prone to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol than women. Age is also a factor. More adults aged 18 to 25 drive after using drugs or drinking than adults 26 or older.

Marijuana is the drug most commonly detected in the systems of drivers involved in crashes, though it’s still less common than alcohol. Tests that detect marijuana use among drivers measure delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s active ingredient, in the blood. But the fact THC is found in the driver’s blood doesn’t necessarily mean he or she was impaired when driving, only that the person used marijuana at some point before the test was taken.

Prescription drugs are also commonly linked to impaired driving crashes. A study of fatal vehicle accidents in 2010 found about 47% of drivers testing positive for drugs had used a prescription drug, while 37% used marijuana and about 10% used cocaine. Pain medications were the most common prescription drugs found in results.

Drugged driving is becoming a bigger problem

The problem of drugged drivers is getting worse, according to a recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It states that 44% of drivers killed in accidents nationwide in 2016 tested positive for drugs, up from 28% testing positive ten years ago.

Of the drivers tested in 2016, 38% tested positive for marijuana, 16% for opioids and 4% for both. This may be the result of several factors, including increased legalization of marijuana, abuse of pain killers and use of heroin.

A good example of how these trends play out can be found in the state of Pennsylvania, according to statistics from its Department of Transportation.

  • In 2012, there were 3,306 crashes (106 involving fatalities) where a vehicle driver, bicyclist or pedestrian was suspected of drug use, compared to 4,301 (with 139 fatalities) five years later.
  • This surge of about 30% in the number of drug related vehicle crashes from 2012 to 2017 is consistent with national trends.
  • During the same time frame alcohol related accidents in the state fell from 11,729 in 2012 to 10,091 in 2017, also mirroring national statistics.

Alcohol has long been part of American culture as has the problem of drunk driving. Drug use is becoming more common, especially the use of marijuana and opioids, and the threat of drugged drivers is growing. Drugged driving needs to become as socially unacceptable as drunk driving has become to most people. The sooner this issue is better addressed, the more lives may be saved.

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