While there have been considerable efforts in recent decades to curb the number of accidents involving driving under the influence of alcohol, driving under the influence of drugs has received less publicity and less action. However, drugged driving remains a common problem in the United States. In fact, according to a report presented by the Governors Highway Safety Association, in 2015, drugs were present in 43 percent of fatally-injured drivers with a known test result. Indeed, fatally-injured drivers were more likely to have drugs in their systems than alcohol.
What Is Drugged Driving?
Contrary to popular belief, drugged driving doesn’t always involve the use of illegal drugs. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs can also cause impairment that makes driving risky. Drugged driving is illegal in every state in the nation, but there is a large variation from one state to the next regarding the regulation of driving under the influence of drugs. As noted by the Governors Highway Safety Association, however, drug-impaired driving is made more complex by the fact that there are hundreds of drugs that can potentially impair drivers. Here is more information provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
- Marijuana, which is legal in a majority of U.S. states for medical purpose and in a growing number of states for recreational use, slows a driver’s reaction time and makes it harder to judge time and distance. Nebraska is one of three states where marijuana remains illegal in all forms.
- Driving while under the influence of methamphetamine or cocaine increases the potential for reckless and aggressive driving behaviors.
- The use of opioids is unsafe for drivers, as opioids increase drowsiness and impair memory and thinking skills.
- The use of sedatives may cause a driver to be drowsy or dizzy while driving.
There are four broad categories of drugs, the Governors Highway Safety Association notes. Those categories include:
- Illegal drugs, including narcotics, stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens
- Legal, non-medicinal drugs
- Prescription medications
- Over-the-counter medications that can be used freely without a prescription
It is more difficult for law enforcement to detect drug impairment than alcohol impairment. The effects of individual drugs and their associated impairments are not well known and vary widely from person to person.
Statistics on Drug Impairment and Car Accidents
How common is drugged driving? What is the economic cost to society of drug-impaired drivers? Consider the following statistics:
- According to roadside surveys conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 22 percent of drivers tested positive for some drug or medication in 2013-2014.
- The use of illegal drugs by drivers is somewhat more prevalent on weekend nights than it is during the daytime or during the week.
- Surveys showed that almost 20 percent of drivers reported using a prescription drug within the past two days, with sedatives being the most common. Other common prescription drugs being used by drivers include antidepressants, narcotics, and stimulants.
- A 2014 survey in Washington, conducted primarily in the evening hours, revealed that 44 percent of drivers admitted that they had driven within two hours of using marijuana.
- Drug use by drivers is increasing, even as alcohol use by drivers is decreasing. The number of fatally-injured drivers who had been using prescription drugs has increased in recent years, as have those using illegal drugs.
- Combining different types of drugs or combining drugs with alcohol has been found to increase a driver’s level of impairment. Mixing marijuana with alcohol, for example, dramatically impairs driving performance and significantly increases the THC concentration in a driver’s blood.
- European studies reinforce the notion of increased impairment from mixing alcohol with drugs, identifying this as a severe driving risk. Marijuana is listed as slightly increasing a driver’s chance of crashing. Drugs associated with medium risk include benzodiazepines, cocaine, and opioids. Amphetamines and mixing multiple types of drugs involve a high level of risk.
- Drug-impaired drivers have been found to engage in other high-risk driving behaviors, such as speeding. They are also less likely to be buckled up and more likely to have had previous driving violations.
Drugged Driving in the News
According to a report from KOLN/KGIN, Nebraska State Troopers removed 64 impaired drivers from the state’s roadways in the final weeks of 2018. Of those 64 drivers, police arrested 61 for driving under the influence of alcohol, and three for driving under the influence of drugs. In addition, police arrested another 66 for possession of drugs during the campaign, which went from December 14 to January 1 and was funded in part by a $25,000 grant from the Nebraska Department of Transportation. In April 2018, KOLN/KGIN reported that the state highway patrol had conducted a similar campaign, specifically aimed at curbing marijuana-impaired driving around April 20. As of the April campaign, state troopers had seized more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana during traffic stops in the first few months of the year.
As reported in a February 2019 article, prosecutors charged a 20-year-old Kearney woman with felony motor vehicle homicide after she allegedly ran a stop sign and her car collided with another vehicle, killing three. The woman’s blood alcohol content was allegedly 0.104 at the time of the accident, and drugs and drug paraphernalia were allegedly found at the scene of the accident. If convicted on all of the felony counts with which she is charged, the court could sentence her to 63 years in prison.
Were You Injured by a Drugged Driver in Nebraska?
Regardless of whether a drug is illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter, it can cause impairment and affect an individual’s driving. Driving while impaired is a negligent or reckless act, and if you have been injured by an impaired driver, a court may award you compensation to pay for the costs of your medical bills, lost time from work, repair to your car, and pain and suffering. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand your legal options. Call the Robert Pahlke Law Group today at (308) 633-4444, or contact us online, to schedule your free consultation and case review with a member of our legal team.