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Alcohol Just the Tip of the Iceberg When It Comes to Impaired Driving

Impaired Driving and AlcoholWhile drunk drivers have always been a serious problem on American roadways, in recent years, driving under the influence of drugs has become increasingly more prevalent nationwide, including in Illinois. The Governors Highly Safety Association (GHSA) released a vehicle crash data report involving fatally injured drivers. Studies have shown that nearly 45% of all driver suffering a fatal injury tested positive for drugs in their system, which is a significant rise from a decade ago when 26% of fatally injured motorists tested positive.

The GHSA-funded report revealed that in 2016, 38% of the car accident fatalities involving drugs involved marijuana, 16% tested positive with opioids in their system and 4% had both. More than half tested positive for at least two drug and 49% drivers that suffered a fatal injury with alcohol in their system also had tested positive for drugs. Results of the study showed that the effects of driving while impaired with alcohol or drugs tend to produce comparable results. However, law enforcement faces many challenges in identifying drug-impaired motorists behind the wheel. It can be extremely difficult to automatically detect a drug impairment. While there are dozens of illegal drugs and prescription medications that can impair a driver’s ability to operate their vehicle safely, developing an effective field test that can identify the diversity of most medications can be overwhelming. Currently, no equipment exists to help police officers measure drug impairment reliably while conducting a traffic stop. Presently, crash investigators must rely on of other methods including toxicology tests to establish legal liability.

The report shows that marijuana use while driving continues to increase at an alarming rate. In April 2017, twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Most recently, West Virginia authorized their citizens to have legal access to medical marijuana starting in July 2019. Other states allow recreational use including California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington State and the District of Columbia. Additionally, there are thirteen states not listed above that no longer criminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts.

A Highly Complex Problem

Driving while under the influence of drugs is significantly more complex than drunk driving. The GHS a report revealed just a few of the many reasons why that include:

  • Law enforcement faces significant challenges in detecting drug impairment during traffic stops compared to identifying alcohol impairment.
  • There are hundreds of medications available to the public that can impair driving.
  • While many of the drugs that are known to impair a driver are ill legal for any type of use, many drivers take prescribed medications for using over-the-counter products that can also cause drowsiness and impairment.
  • Medical science has yet to identify the presence of many medications in the body and how it affects the motorist driving and the risk it has in causing a crash because drugs uniquely affect every individual.
  • There is no standardized federal law to determine when someone is driving under the influence of drugs (DUID).
  • No Federal or State government agency has yet to identify consistent national/statewide data on crash involved accidents involving the presence of drugs in every jurisdiction.
  • Individuals have access to hundreds of drugs that are known to impaired driving.

Medical science manufacturers drugs to affect mental or physical conditions in a specific way to improve the individual’s health. Unfortunately, prescribed drugs also impaired driving which is why warning labels must be added to the bottle that includes: “do not drive or operate heavy machinery when taking these medicines.” However, just having the presence of the medication in the body does not always impede the individual’s ability to operate a moving vehicle. Some medications will impair the individual by wide-ranging factors including its concentration and how it interacts or contraindicates when used with other medications. Many metabolites and medications stay in the body for hours, days, weeks or longer after the impairment has diminished. The metabolites of some drugs like marijuana can be detected in the system weeks or months after the drug was last used. Alternatively, the concentrations of some medications dilute quickly while the impairment last much longer.

Combining Drugs with Alcohol Can Increase Impairment

The combination of medications or mixing drugs with alcohol use can increase an individual’s impairment. Some studies have shown that using marijuana and alcohol together can be dangerously risky because it can dramatically impair the motorist’s performance. One study revealed that marijuana and alcohol use together could produce substantially higher concentrations of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) and the individual’s blood compared to using marijuana alone.

Statistics on How Drugs Cause Accidents

Researchers have developed experimental settings to study the effects of drugs while operating vehicles to accurately measure driver behavior and impairment. However, the results of these experiments do not always align with real-world data because some impaired motorists compensate their behavior by driving their vehicle more carefully when impaired. Additionally, these experiments are typically conducted on the subject to have taken low doses of drugs to test their abilities.

European studies on the effects of driving while under the influence of drugs revealed that there was a slight increased risk to motorists using marijuana, a medium increased risk for drivers taking opioids, cocaine and benzodiazepines and a highly increased risk when motorists were taking amphetamines and multiple drugs. The group that displayed extreme increased risk of causing a crash while under the influence of drugs had their behavior tested while taking alcohol together with drugs. Other studies supported the European studies model that combining drugs with alcohol can produce a significantly higher risk of driving impaired compared to those who had taken drugs or alcohol alone.

Some studies show that there is a significant difference in the risk of being involved in a crash with an alcohol-impaired driver or a drug-impaired motorist in America. Research showed that there was a significant increase in crashes involving alcohol happening at night while drug-involved accidents tend to occur throughout the day. The Canadian study showed that alcohol-related fatal crashes tend to involve young male drivers that happen on weekends in the early morning hours. Usually, these young drivers are involved in a run off the road crash or single vehicle accident. Alternatively, drug-related fatal accidents usually involve motorists of every age, both females and males at any time of the day or night and crashes that usually involve multiple vehicles. When asked if marijuana was a drug, Canadian youth typically responded that it is not because “it is a natural product, quite distinct from ‘hard drugs.’”

Roadside Driving under the Influence of Drug Law Enforcement

Law enforcement concerning driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is handled at the state level. While any motorist can be stopped for traffic law violation, some states allow the police to set up checkpoints to check for drug and alcohol-impaired motorists. Usually, the officer observes the motorist’s behavior and Loucks for any other spicula’s indicators including marijuana cigarettes, opened beer bottles, or the odor of marijuana an alcohol emitting from the vehicle, driver or passengers. While identifying alcohol use in the field can be easy if the officer has access to a BAC breathalyzer device, identifying the behavioral indicators of drug-impairment can be more challenging. Usually, the officer will look for certain signs including:

  • Alcohol Impairment – The individual will exhibit an alcohol order, poor balance, or slurred speech.
  • Depressants-associated Impairment – The individual will display disorientation, drowsiness, or slurred speech.
  • Cocaine-induced Impairment – The individual will appear to be talkative, nervous, irritable, anxious, alert, or hyperactive.
  • Marijuana-associated Impairment – The individual will exhibit tremoring, emit a marijuana older or speak incomplete thoughts.

If the officer suspects that the driver is impaired from alcohol, they will usually begin a field sobriety test to confirm alcohol-impairment using testing instruments and devices. Before making an arrest, the officer will attempt to obtain a BAC result from the breathalyzer or through a blood sample usually obtained at the police station, medical center, or a hospital emergency room. Typically, if the driver appears to be impaired but the alcohol-presence test was negative, the officer will consider other drugs or causing the impairment only after ruling out other probable causes, including alcohol.

Oddly, many law enforcement officers were never adequately trained to recognize behavioral indicators that the driver is impaired by any other substance other than alcohol. Only a small group of officers nationwide have received proper training in person in Advance Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) courses while tens of thousands of others have received ARIDE training online.

Blood Test Provide Chemical Evidence

Per 100% certainty, only a chemical test can provide verifiable evidence that drugs are present or absent from the motorist’s body. Law enforcement and medical professionals can take saliva, urine and blood samples for objective proof that can be used in a court of law. Blood test produce the most accurate results by far. However, obtaining the sample to use as evidence might take several hours or more. If the impaired driver does not voluntarily agree to a blood draw, a judge will need to issue a search warrant. If the officer has the legal right to obtain a blood sample from the allegedly drug-impaired driver, the sample must be drawn by a medical professional like a phlebotomist, who is medically trained to draw blood. In these cases, the officer may need to transport the motorist to the local clinic or hospital.

The Government Highly Safety Association recommends that all fatally injured drivers be tested for drugs in their system as well as all other drivers charged with driving under the influence of drugs. Any delay in taking a blood sample to confirm drug impairment could affect driving under the influence of drugs prosecution, making it more difficult for the State to obtain justice and victims to seek financial compensation for the damage caused by the impaired driver. The GHSA recommends state agencies were together with toxicology laboratories to ensure the law enforcement officers have access to the staff, equipment, and facilities that are necessary to provide accurate test results.

Curbing Drugged Driving in Your Community

GHSA recommended practical ways to reduce the number of driving while impaired by drugs in every community. Some of these recommendations include:

  • Assess Illinois’ drugged driving problems and evaluate how the Legislature is making corrections to make driving safer.
  • Develop a strategic plan to reduce driving under the influence of drugs while working with safety advocate groups.
  • Create, implement and enforce educational campaigns built around driving under the influence of drugs that make the public aware of the potential risks of driving impaired, and the penalties and laws associated with DUID including when using prescription medications.
  • Work with the state legislature to develop a zero-tolerance approach and build laws within Illinois on combating the use of illegal drugs, including when driving.
  • Update or revise any existing DUID laws when necessary to allow obtaining body fluids in oral fluids for screening tests and establish strict penalties for drivers who refuse the test.
  • Provide every law enforcement officer sufficient training to understand best how to identify, test and confirm driving under the influence of drugs.
  • Tested every fatally injured motorist for drugs, and every surviving driver arrested for driving under the influence of drugs and ensure that the laboratory used to verify drug use provides the results promptly to be used when prosecuting the drug-induced driver.
  • Screen every driving under the influence of alcohol or drug offender to identify any health problems and use the information as a separate independent database to be used by state legislatures for enacting federal laws built on real-world data.

Holding the Drug-Induced Driver Financially Accountable

Driving under the influence of drugs is never a victimless crime. If you lost a loved one or were injured from a rack involving a drug or drunk driver, it is best to seek legal advice on how to proceed to ensure your financial recovery. The DUID injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC remain dedicated to aggressively fighting as advocates to ensure your rights are protected. Our years of superior legal representation has helped us successfully resolve thousands of cases involving personal injury matters. We invite you to contact us today at (888) 424-5757 or online to schedule an appointment to discuss your case for compensation. Your initial consultation to discuss your case is free. You will not be charged any legal fees until we have successfully resolved your case through a negotiated out-of-court settlement or through a jury trial award. Let our team of legal experts begin working on your case today to hold the drug-induced driver financially accountable for your damages. We provide every client a “No Win/No-Fee” Guarantee, meaning if we are unable to resolve your case for compensation, you owe us nothing.