After nationwide public awareness campaigns spanning more than two decades and gradually increasing penalties, the number of people driving under the influence of alcohol has declined significantly across the country. The potential hazards are widely known; generally, even those who ultimately decide to drive while intoxicated recognize the dangers and the potential consequences.
While drunk driving has declined across the country, a new trend has risen - drugged driving. Now, many drivers are taking to the road after ingesting prescription narcotics that impair driving abilities or illegal drugs.
During the most recent National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers conducted in 2007, 16.3 percent of drivers tested positive for illegal drugs and over-the-counter medications when stopped on weekend evenings. Although the survey did not evaluate whether the drugs impaired the drivers, this is a significant result, and has resulted in further scrutiny of the issue.
Misconception: Driving Under Influence of Drugs is Not DWI
Some drivers may not realize that they can be charged with drugged driving, even if under the influence of prescribed medication. Drugged driving is similar in many regards to drunk driving. Many prescription medications or illegal drugs can impair the ability of a driver to respond quickly to changing conditions, much like significant quantities of alcohol. When operating a motor vehicle, these delayed responses can be the difference between a safe ride and a car accident.
In many cases, those who are driving under the influence of drugs may not even realize that their abilities are impaired. Drivers are simply taking the medications they have been prescribed, such as anti-anxiety medications, painkillers, muscle relaxants, or sedatives.
Furthermore, it is not clear what level of drugs in the body impairs driving. With DWI in New York, there is a clear dividing line - a person who is driving with intoxication evidence of a blood alcohol content level above .08 can be charged with DWI. With drugged driving though, the effects of any particular medication can vary widely based upon both the drug and the individual taking the drug.
This variability can make it more difficult to prosecute those accused of driving while impaired by the influence of drugs. There is no bright line test. A jury can consider all of the surrounding facts and circumstances when determining whether a driver's abilities were impaired.
As a result, it is particularly important that those accused of drugged driving work with knowledgeable attorneys to effectively protect their rights and interests. If you have been accused of drugged driving, contact a criminal defense lawyer to discuss your case.