A 25-year-old South Florida woman is facing criminal charges of DUI with serious injury and DUI with property damage after she reportedly caused a crash after snorting Oxycodone and other prescription medications.
Although she and her passenger survived, they were badly hurt after she allegedly crossed abruptly in front of a dump truck in Loxahatchee, resulting in a collision. A blood test taken later at the hospital allegedly revealed the driver of the car was high at the time of the wreck.
The case is indicative of a growing trend that traffic safety experts say is threatening innocent lives on our nation’s roadways: Drugged driving. A 51-page new report from the Governors’ Highway Safety Association details a “Guide for What States Can Do” to address the issue.
This is in light of an earlier study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that found 22 percent of all drivers tested positive for some type of drug or medication, while 40 percent of drivers who were fatally injured in crashes tested positive for drugs. That’s about the same number as test positive for alcohol.
The report notes that the percentage of drivers who tested positive for marijuana or illegal drugs climbed from 12.4 percent in 2007 to more than 15 percent in 2014.
The issue is likely only going to continue on this upward trend when one considers the increasing availability of marijuana for both medicinal and recreational uses. To date, 23 states plus the District of Columbia allow marijuana for medicinal purposes, and four states plus D.C. allow it for recreational purposes. Another 16 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts.
Congress is currently weighing a bill – HR 2598 – that would compel the NHTSA to issue guidance on the best practices to prevent marijuana-impaired driving.
While there are many calls to action, it’s unclear exactly what can be done. That’s because there are hundreds of drugs with the potential to impair: Some are illegal, others are legal under certain conditions and others are easily available over-the-counter. Plus, restrictions and enforcement can be difficult because the relationship between the presence of a drug in a person’s body and that person’s actual state of impairment can vary significantly from drug-to-drug and person-to-person. It’s also generally more difficult for law enforcement to detect drug impairment than it is to determine alcohol impairment, and those cases are tougher to prosecute.
The GHSA recommends that states first assess drugged driving issues locally. That means knowing about the traffic crash and arrest data, understanding what the attitudes are and recognizing the law and any potential weaknesses. Further, the agency recommends building partnerships, ranging from health care groups to industry activists to law enforcement to addiction specialists to drug manufacturers in order to build a broad impaired driving task force. From there, the GHSA recommends creating a strategic plan that involves working with partners and stakeholders to plan for the next stage of legal marijuana in the state.
Although there is a tendency to paint drugged driving – especially where it involves marijuana – as less serious than drunk driving, the fact is, marijuana-impaired drivers are far more likely to crash than those who are sober. It is not safe. Marijuana impairs a person’s cognitive functions and psychomotor skills – including time, distance perception, lane tracking and vigilance.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Drug-Impaired Driving: A Guide for What States Can Do, October 2015, Governors Highway Safety Association