With an increase in the numbers of states decriminalizing marijuana, or completely legalizing it for medicinal or recreational uses, laws regarding drugged driving are trying to keep pace with increased incidences of drugged driving and how it affects accidents and fatality cases. As of 2017, 32 states and the District of Columbia have some type of law that correlates with increased marijuana use.
In addition to more people using the substance at home, it is also being found in more vehicle crashes. According to the report Drug Impaired Driving: A Guide for States 2017, fatally-injured drivers are more likely to test positively for drugs than for alcohol, and drugs are found in 43 percent of drivers who have died on the road. Even if your state, like Alabama, completely outlaws marijuana, you could still be a victim of drugged driving. Many different drugs, including misused prescriptions, are being cited in drugged driving incidents. Here’s what to know about the trends and what to do if you’re in an accident where drugs may have been involved.
What Effects do Drugs Have on Drivers
Because of the diversity of drugs that may impair driving and how nuanced the effects may be depending on the person’s physical makeup, determining exact outcomes based on drug use is much more difficult to define compared to alcohol use. Also, often drivers who have drugs in their system during a crash have also ingested alcohol, which makes determining effects based on the drug versus alcohol more difficult.
Some substances that are completely legal, such as over-the-counter cough medicine or a daily prescription, may cause dire effects when they are paired with driving. A mental decline in older adults may cause an unintentional misuse of drugs, either via inaccurate frequency or dosage. Here are some drugged driving basics, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Sedatives: Increase dizziness and drowsiness
- Marijuana: Slows reaction time, impairs judgment of time and distance, decreases coordination and decreases attention
- Cocaine and methamphetamine: May increase aggression and reckless driving
Currently, in the United States, 16 states have zero-tolerance laws for drug-impaired driving, these laws often only focus on illegal drugs. If a person takes too much of a prescription that has a warning that it causes drowsy behavior, this drug may not be an obvious factor in a crash where the driver fell asleep at the wheel. A breathalyzer test will show a police officer immediately whether or not a driver has been drinking alcohol. Currently, very few police departments have testing that detects the presence of narcotics such as the Dräger DrugTest® 5000. These types of tests only detect the presence of illegal substances and cannot determine levels of intoxication. However, once detected or simply if an officer suspects that someone is under the influence of a substance, that officer can still detain and require that the suspect undergoes a urine and/or blood test. If the effects of the drugs are not clear, the person at fault may never be tested. Often times “sleepiness” may be ruled as the accident cause, not the prescription. In situations like this, it is crucial to enlist the help of an accident attorney that is well practiced in cases involving substances.
Why a Lawyer is Necessary for Any Accident
Because so many drug-related crashes may go unnoticed by the victim and even police officers, hiring a car accident attorney for any case is wise, because drugs may be at play in affecting other drivers. Contacting your attorney immediately after a crash can help to ensure proper drug testing is done, which protects you and your case. An attorney will also be able to help gather the proper data that protects you, including what prescriptions other drivers have taken, what over-the-counter medicine they’ve used, whether or not they possess a medical marijuana card and may have been using marijuana before driving, or whether an illegal substance is found in their system.
Even if the accident seems minor, the damage to your vehicle, your body, your finances, your mental health and your time is worth protecting. Due to shock, stress, and adrenaline people often don’t realize that they have an injury or how bad the damages really are. Once the report is made and the officer has left the details of the accident and the damages or compensation are left to the insurance companies, an insurance company has their bottom line in mind first. A lawyer will have yours and will know how to correctly navigate the insurance process. Secondly, if you are at fault a lawyer will be able to help protect your assets and freedom.
How to Protect Yourself Against Drugged Driving
While you will never be completely safe from the possibility of drugged driving on the road, there are many precautions you can take to increase your protection.
- Never drive after using illegal drugs. If you are found guilty of driving under the influence of illegal drugs, you will likely incur similar or worse penalties as the consequences of an alcohol-related (D.U.I) charge.
- Always adhere to medicine labels. Thoroughly read the label of any over-the-counter or prescription drug you take. If there is language warning against driving, you should never drive after taking the medication
- Avoid risky behavior at all costs. If there is a chance you will be drinking or using drugs always plan to stay where you are or have a designated driver. If you drove and worry that you may be tempted to drive while impaired, give your keys to someone who will not allow you to drive. Other options include using public transportation, a driving service, or a taxi.
- Employ defensive driving on the road. Indicators of drugged driving include improper lane changes, drifting and swerving, extremely slow or fast speeds, delayed actions (such as taking too long to drive after a light turns green) and much more unusual behaviors. Watch out for unsafe driving around you while you’re on the road. If you suspect drugged driving, take note of the license plate number, and notify emergency services. Do not drive near a driver you suspect is dangerous. Pull off to the side of the road, and take a different route.
As prescription drugs become more prevalent and States loosen laws around marijuana usage it is essential to be aware of the risks you face as a driver. Currently, measuring drug usage and its effects in accidents still has some significant milestones to achieve before more reliable testing is instituted. Having a relationship with an accident attorney will keep you protected if you are in an at-fault accident or are the victim of an impaired driver.