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Drugged Driving Predicted to Surpass Drunk Driving as Fatal Crash Cause

November 29th, 2017 by Attorney Chip Evans

A recent report from NBC News revealed that in 20 states that legalized marijuana, the drug has been linked to a greater number of crash fatalities. In 2010, 12.2 percent of deceased drivers in those states were found to have cannabinol – a marijuana remnant – in their blood. But in 1999, only 4.2 percent of drivers in fatal crashes had cannabinol in the blood.

One explanation may be that when states legalize marijuana, they don’t also create laws that prohibit driving under the influence of marijuana – at least not immediately. Drivers may also wrongly believe that if marijuana is legal, it’s OK to use it before or while driving. In California, which has allowed the legal consumption of marijuana since 2004, regulators only this year passed a law (effective in 2018) that prohibits smoking marijuana while driving.

Enforcement Challenges

Drugged driving is a complicated issue, because while breathalyzers can quickly measure blood alcohol content, there’s no simple way to gauge drug impairment – usually, a blood test is the only way to confirm drug impairment. Police officers initiating a traffic stop can usually smell alcohol when a person is inebriated, but drug impairment doesn’t offer the same clue.

Aside from marijuana, legally prescribed sedatives and painkillers have been linked to many crashes, as have legally prescribed and illegally manufactured stimulants. Police may have difficulty determining whether a driver is overusing a legal medication or has unknowingly succumbed to the medication’s side effects.

Possible Underreporting

Drug impairment may be underreported as a crash factor if the driver was also under the influence of alcohol. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, for example, says that if blood tests show a driver was legally drunk at the time of a crash, investigators don’t order further tests to look for the presence of drugs in the blood.

Training and Awareness

A Pennsylvania symposium on drugged driving reported some of the problems with controlling and reporting drugged driving:

  • Police officers lack training on spotting drugged drivers.
  • New drugs are always emerging.
  • Data regarding drivers’ drug impairment is not collected.

Countermeasures that could help reduce drugged driving include specialized training for law enforcement, advances in testing for drug use, and raising public awareness regarding the dangers of drugged driving. Even over-the-counter cold medications can cause sudden and marked drowsiness.

Reevaluating Penalties

There has been ongoing debate about how to regulate marijuana use among drivers. Remnants of the drug are detectable in the blood long after the intoxicating effects have worn off, and that could be why some states have taken a soft stance on penalizing drivers with cannabinol in their blood. Some states forbid any trace of marijuana in the blood for drivers, while other states require prosecutors to prove that the driver ingested marijuana and was incapacitated to the extent that driving was impossible.

If you believe a drugged driver caused the crash that injured you, contact the attorneys at the Austin, TX-based Evans Law Firm. As personal injury attorneys with years of experience, we help the people of Texas put their lives back on track. We offer small law firm attention with big law firm results. Call today at (855) 414-1012 or fill out this online contact form to find out how we can help you.

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