Drugged driving is the operation of a motor vehicle by a motorist who is impaired by any type of drug, including prescription medication, over-the-counter medicine, and illegal (“street”) drugs. The results of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) National Roadside Survey (NRS) show that approximately one-quarter of motorists tested yearly are positive for drugs with the potential to impair driving. Nearly 30 million motorists over the age of 16 admit that they’ve driven under the influence of drugs.
The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) recently reported that more than half of drug-positive drivers tested positive for more than one drug. More than 40% who were drug-positive also had alcohol in their systems and drove under the influence of both. Drugs were found in the bloodstreams of more than one-third of fatal traffic accident victims and in almost 20% of those sustaining severe car crash injuries, with marijuana and opioids the most prevalent substances. Cocaine and methamphetamine were present in the bloodstreams of more than 10% of drivers tested. Young adult drivers and men were found to be more likely than other groups to drive under the influence of drugs.
The Effects of Drugs on Driving
Studies assessing the effects of drugs on the operation of a motor vehicle show that:
- Delayed reaction times. Marijuana slows down your reaction time, alters your perception of time and distance, affects your balance and coordination, and hinders your ability to make quick decisions.
- Affected decision-making. Prescription medications like Xanax, Valium, Vicodin, and OxyContin affect your ability to think clearly and cause blurred vision and drowsiness.
- Drowsiness. Sedatives, in general, can cause drowsiness and light-headedness.
- Anxiety and Aggression. Stimulants like diet pills, methamphetamine, and cocaine can make you edgy, nervous, aggressive, and reckless behind the wheel.
- Loss of consciousness. Heroin and morphine can cause you to lose consciousness.
- Hallucinations. Psychoactive drugs like LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline can cause visual and auditory hallucinations.
- OTC drugs can have side effects as well. Even some over-the-counter drugs can negatively affect your coordination, judgment, and ability to stay alert.
A motorist who combines more than one drug or mixes drugs with alcohol can experience an extreme and unpredictable reaction, sometimes resulting in an overdose. Such a drugged driver could possibly OD behind the wheel and endanger the lives of other drivers and pedestrians. According to NHTSA, the threat posed to public safety by drugged driving is equal to that posed by drunk driving.
Drug Use Is on the Rise in Texas
During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the use of drugs to counteract depression and anxiety increased dramatically in Texas. So did the number of fatal drug overdoses, which have been on the rise in our state for the past 20 years. The number of car crashes in which drivers tested positive for drug use increased during this time, as well. More than half of the motorists in serious and fatal traffic accidents tested positive for at least one drug, most commonly marijuana, followed by alcohol, opioids, stimulants, and sedatives. This means your chances of being involved in a crash caused by a drugged driver in Texas are higher today than they’ve ever been.
Drunk Driving vs. Drugged Driving
In Texas, “DUI” means driving under the influence of any substance that impairs driving skills, but drugged driving is harder to prove and prosecute than drunk driving. If a police officer stops a motorist or responds to an accident call and observes signs of alcohol use (slurred speech, slowed movements, lack of coordination, or the smell of beer, wine, or liquor) in a driver, field sobriety tests and a breathalyzer assessment of the driver’s blood-alcohol content (BAC) can be administered on the spot.
If the driver’s BAC is over 0.08%, that driver is legally intoxicated and can be cited for DUI. A DUI conviction, which can result in fines and jail time, does not provide you any compensation for damages sustained in a drunk-driving crash, but it is powerful evidence if you need to prove the at-fault driver was impaired in order to recover damages through the insurance claim process or in a civil lawsuit.
Drug Use Is Harder to Measure
There are several reasons why it’s harder to find out if a driver is under the influence of drugs than if the driver is intoxicated by alcohol. Those reasons include:
- We do not yet have efficient roadside tests to measure the presence of drugs in the body. Doing so generally requires a blood test and a toxicology report, and police officers have neither the equipment nor the training to draw blood from a driver at a traffic stop or accident scene.
- We don’t have a legal limit for the percentage of drugs in the bloodstream.
- If a motorist’s BAC is over the legal limit, the police usually don’t bother with checking for drug levels because they already have the evidence they need for a DUI conviction.
- Some drugs remain in the bloodstream for longer periods of time than alcohol does, so it’s hard to determine when the driver ingested the drug in question.
An Attorney Might Be Able to Prove Drugged Driving
Determining whether drugs were present in the system of a driver who caused your accident requires a toxicology report, and the courts generally rely on the testimony of expert witnesses to decide whether the drugs found in an at-fault driver’s bloodstream were a factor in the wreck. An experienced Houston car accident lawyer can obtain the results of the driver’s toxicology report and call in expert witnesses to assess the role drugs played in your accident. Your attorney can then organize and present this evidence convincingly in negotiations with the insurance company or at trial to help you obtain fair compensation for your damages, including medical bills, property damage, lost income, and pain and suffering.
Other methods your lawyer can use to determine whether the liable driver was under the influence of drugs include:
- Interviewing passengers. Finding and interviewing passengers who were in the driver’s car at the time of the crash
- Obtaining a search warrant. Obtaining a warrant to search the driver’s vehicle for the presence of drugs, residue, or paraphernalia
- Meeting with witnesses. Questioning the driver’s friends or family members, who might be able to testify about the driver’s activities before the wreck
- Reviewing the toxicology report. Checking with the lab to see if there were trace elements of drugs not included in the toxicology report because their concentration was below the cutoff level
Have You Been Injured by a Drugged Driver in Houston?
An experienced Houston car accident attorney can help you prove liability and seek fair compensation for damages. Contact us online, start a chat, or call us at 281-688-6880 to schedule your free consultation. You pay no attorney fees until we win your case.