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What can be done about drug-impaired drivers?

The United States is in the midst of two sociological issues that have made drugged driving more common. First is the decriminalization of marijuana in the majority of states. Second is the opioid crisis. What are governments doing to control the problem?

First of all, it's crucial to consider personal responsibility. While smoking marijuana may no longer be illegal in many states, driving while high is illegal in California and every other state. Likewise, while it make not be a person's individual responsibility when they become addicted to opioids, that does not relieve them of the responsibility to avoid driving while they are impaired.

If you have been in a crash with an impaired driver, you have legal rights. Whatever their excuse for using drugs before driving, it is not enough to count against the negligence of doing so. Talk to a personal injury attorney about your options.

Marijuana legalization and the opioid crisis have both driven up the rate of drugged driving. For example, in 2016 the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) found that 44% of all fatally injured drivers nationwide had drugs in their system. That was up from only 28% ten years ago. Of fatally injured drivers:

  • 38% tested positive for cannabis
  • 16% tested positive for opioids
  • 4% tested positive for both

Poly drug use, or using more than one type of impairing substance, is common. Drinking alcohol while using one or more drugs is also common.

It may be that poly drug users are even more likely than others to drive while impaired. This is because both alcohol and many other drugs inhibit people's judgment and make them act more impulsively.

Drugged driving laws

Unfortunately, there is no breathalyzer-like test for marijuana. This is because THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, remains in the user's system even after they are no longer feeling high. The presence of THC, therefore, does not necessarily equal impairment.

Most drugged driving limit the amount of THC allowed in the system, or define impairment as having any THC in the system. That means that some people who are not high will be found to have been impaired when they were driving.

With alcohol and opioids, however, the presence of a certain amount of the drug in the system does correspond with impairment.

In either case, however, a driver can generally be convicted of DUI based on a police officer's educated opinion as to whether they were driving impaired.

Society needs to do much more to convince drug users not to drive. One thing that can be done is to hold impaired drivers responsible in a court of law.

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