“Drunk” driving has been a topic of concern since the days of prohibition. But as more and more states legalize marijuana (23 to date), drugged driving is starting to gain some serious concern.
Misused drugs can impair faculties essential for safe vehicle operation. This includes motor skills, perception, balance and coordination, reaction time, attention, and judgment. Even small amounts of some drugs can have a significant effect on a person’s driving ability.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), adults aged 18 to 25 were more likely to drive after taking drugs than other age groups. Across all age groups, men were more likely than women to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
A study, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers, found that the number of drivers with alcohol in their system had declined by nearly one third since 2007. That number has declined more than three quarters since the first Roadside Survey in 1973. But in the same survey, the NHTSA found a huge escalation in the number of drivers using marijuana or other illegal drugs. To make matters worse, the 2014 survey also showed that nearly one in every four drivers tested positive for at least one drug that could affect their overall driver safety.
Even though legalized marijuana is at the forefront of this argument – many prescription drugs, including opioid pain relievers like OxyContin and Demerol and benzodiazepines, like Valium, Xanax and Ativan – are often misused as well.
What are the laws to counter drugged driving?
The U. S. courts are struggling with cases involving drugged driving, which could involve illicit drugs, over-the-counter medications, or prescription drugs. While these cases have a lot in common with DWI cases, there are some unique issues related to drugged driving. For example, there is no equivalent to Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) for drugs. So, a driver’s drug levels do not reliably correlate with particular levels of alcohol impairment. A drug amount that produces no observable impairment in one person may be severely impairing to another.
All 50 states have laws in place that specifically target drugged drivers. More than one third of all states have adopted a “per se” standard which was established by the Obama administration’s 2010 National Drug Control Strategy as one of its major drug counter initiatives. “Per se” means that any detectable amount of a controlled substance in a driver’s body fluids, other than a medicine prescribed by a physician, constitutes per se evidence of a “drugged driving” violation.
Convictions of drugged drivers using the “per se” statutes are not the only positive of these laws. Enforcing these effective “drugged driving laws” will create new paths to substance abuse treatment in the same way drunk driving laws have established a path to treatment for people with alcohol related issues.