Drunk driving is widely acknowledged as a significant cause of catastrophic injuries and wrongful death which is hardly surprising given that the harm inflicted by intoxicated drivers is experienced by 10,000 fatality victims and their families annually. Although DUI/DWI laws also apply to drivers who are impaired by drugs, this risk receives far less media attention. Nonetheless, the increased use of prescription drugs combined with the unique challenges in proving drugged driving have made this a major traffic safety issue. Our Louisville accident attorneys have provided a few key facts about the growing threat of car accidents resulting from impairment by illegal street drugs, prescription medications and even over-the-counter remedies.
Fact # 1: The number of people operating motor vehicles while under the influence of a drug that diminishes driving ability is significant.
A recent study conducted by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that nearly a third of all drivers involved in a fatal collision tested positive for at least one drug that could impair cognitive faculties, perception or the physical skills need to drive safely. Given the epidemic of prescription drug use and abuse, the researchers predict that the volume of drugged driving accidents will continue to rise at a sharp rate.
Fact # 2: Drivers who ingest drugs often exhibit substantially diminished driving ability.
According to a study published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, drug use triples the risk of being involved in a fatal motor vehicle collision when compared to motorists who test negative for both drugs and alcohol. When drugs and alcohol are combined by a driver, the risk of a collision increases by a factor of 23 times. The impact of drugs in a driver’s system varied depending on the type of substance. Depressants were most closely associated with fatal traffic collisions followed by narcotics, stimulants and marijuana.
Fact #3: Drugged driving is more difficult to prove so drivers are less deterred by laws prohibiting driving while under the influence of drugs.
The conviction rate in DUI/DWI cases increased dramatically with the adoption of “per se” laws that permitted prosecutors to obtain a conviction for alcohol impaired driving based on a chemical test showing a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .08 percent or higher. Unfortunately, drugged driving criminal statutes in most states do not provide for a “per se” level at which a driver can be presumed to be impaired by a particular drug. Further, drugs remain in the system longer which can create challenges in establishing whether the drug was actually ingested shortly before driving or weeks before the driver climbed behind the wheel. Although the precise nature of these obstacles differs depending on the drugged driving laws in the individual state, it is widely acknowledged that drugged driving generally is more difficult to prove than drunk driving.
Fact #4: Drivers may be found to have engaged in negligent or reckless driving even if they were taking a prescription drug subject to a lawful prescription from a doctor.
There is a common misperception among many people that drivers are not subject to civil or criminal liability for driving while impaired by drugs provided the drug is an over-the-counter or a lawfully prescribed medication. The reality is that a doctor’s prescription does not absolve a driver of liability for impaired driving. Prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs come with warnings about the danger of operating a motor vehicle when taking certain types of medications like anti-anxiety drugs, tranquilizers, painkillers, sleep aids, antihistamines and others. When drivers disregard these safety warnings, this may constitute negligence in the form of drugged driving.
If you are involved in a car accident caused by a drug impaired driver, you may have a right to financial compensation for your injuries or the loss of a loved one. Our Louisville auto accident attorneys at Murphy & Associates PLC are committed to obtaining compensation for those who are injured by driver impaired by prescription, illicit and over-the-counter drugs. If you or a family member suffers serious injury or a loved one dies in a car accident, we invite you to call us for a free initial consultation at (502) 443-1360 to learn how we can help!