Tiger Woods has become the most high-profile example of a worrisome nationwide trend: Drugged driving is on the rise, and for the first time ever, people involved in fatal crashes are more likely to have drugs than alcohol in their systems.
A report published this April by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility found that both illegal and prescription drugs are found in the bodies of fatally-injured drivers about 43 percent of the time, which is a good source of data, since they are tested more often than drivers in non-fatal crashes.
Alcohol above the legal limit, meanwhile, was found in just 37 percent of the drivers.
Alcohol was the bigger culprit in 2005, being detected in 41 percent of traffic deaths, compared to just 28 percent for drugs, as Reuters reported.
The number of people driving under the influence of prescription drugs has increased in recent years. A newly released study found 20 percent of drivers had used a prescription drug in the past two days; mostly sedatives, antidepressants, and painkillers.
In the Governors Highway Safety Association report, over one-third of the drugs found were some form of marijuana. The second-largest category was some sort of amphetamines, at 9.3 percent.
Jim Hedlund, the author of the GHSA report, told Reuters that the rise in drugged driving can’t be directly linked with the opioid epidemic, whose death toll has quadrupled since the late ’90s. However, marijuana-legalization advocates also cautioned news outlets covering the report last month that the high prevalence of cannabis in the drivers’ systems should be taken with a grain of salt: After all, marijuana can linger in the blood stream for weeks, long after the driver is no longer intoxicated.
The report lists marijuana as being associated with a “slightly increased” risk of crashing, followed by cocaine and opioids at a “medium increased risk,” amphetamines at a “highly increased risk,” and alcohol in combination with other drugs at the highest risk of all.
As more Americans rely on prescription painkillers, heavy-duty sedatives, and other pills to get through the day, cases like Woods’ have become increasingly common and frustrating for police. Prescription drugs act on the body differently than alcohol does. There’s little agreement among traffic authorities on how much is too much to have in one’s system, and the substances are harder to test for than booze.
With a greater awareness for personal safety and the consequences that can occur for driving irresponsibly, in addition to a dramatic improvement in the quality of vehicles, the rate of car accident deaths has steadily declined. However, as more people abuse prescription medications, whether painkillers, antidepressants or even antibiotics, we are seeing more instances of DUI that involve prescription drugs.
More and more people are receiving prescriptions, and more than 70 percent of Americans are on at least one medication. These drugs carry powerful side effects that can incapacitate a driver. Several drugs cause drowsiness, distorted perception, dizziness, and slow down reaction time. A good number of side effects contribute to driver impairment.
Despite these facts, too many people disregard the warnings issued on the bottle. Whether the warning states “May cause drowsiness” or “Do not operate heavy machinery” too many people think they will be fine driving to work or running errands after taking medications.
If you or someone you know has been injured due to a car accident involving prescription drug abuse in Dallas, the law office of Reyes Browne Reilley can help you receive the compensation you deserve.