When the term “driving under the influence” is heard, the first thing that usually comes to mind is alcohol intoxication. But alcohol is only one of the countless substances that can impair an individual’s ability to drive. Driving under the influence of drugs, including prescription medications and illegal substance can cause severe consequences. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 10 million Americans drive under the influence of drugs each year, making up 18% of fatally injured drivers. Let’s examine the top three consequences that drugged driving can cause.
Simply put, drugged driving puts individuals at higher risk for crashes, often resulting in injuries or fatalities to the occupants of the vehicle or other individuals involved in the accident. In 2006, approximately 18,000 people died in traffic crashes from driving under the influence, accounting for over 40% of all traffic deaths. Furthermore, drivers can be charged with serious crimes in relation to injuries such as murder, voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, or criminal negligence. While speeding is one of the greatest contributing factors to traffic injuries and deaths, another common factor is running red lights, which most often impacts pedestrians or drivers and passengers of other vehicles.
Although it is more difficult to prosecute motorists that are charged with driving under the influence of drugs, rather than alcohol, there are many states that have “per se” drugged driving laws, making it illegal to operate a vehicle with any detectable amount of drugs in one’s system. Various jurisdictions across the country also have what’s known as “Drug Recognition Experts (DREs)”, who are specially trained officers that follow specific guidelines in order to determine drug impairment. Depending on the circumstances, DWIs can be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies with potential penalties including, but not limited to:
Individuals who drive under the influence of drugs may not only face criminal penalties, but can be sued in civil court as well. Injuries caused by drugged driving are frequently the subject of civil suits. This entails a separate and distinct process that can be initiated by victims of a drugged drivers, with the assistance of a personal injury lawyer, to recover damages including costs of medical treatment, lost wages, damaged property, other economic damages, compensation for pain and suffering, and even wrongful death. Some states have no-fault laws that put a threshold in place, requiring injuries or damages of a certain statutory severity. Other states maintain pure negligence laws that enable individuals to file a civil suit against any intoxicated driver for the injuries sustained. Lastly, if an individual is killed due to driving under the influence of drugs, a wrongful death suit can be filed.
Overall, driving under the influence of any substance has significant consequences that impact you both short term and long term. As one of the most common criminal offenses in the United States, many individuals may receive a sudden shock with major ramifications that can undermine future opportunities such as prison terms, employment, auto insurance rates, professional relationships, and personal relationships to name a few. Keep these three main consequences in mind when thinking about driving under the influence of drugs, and don’t do it.
Thanks to our friends and contributors as Cohen & Cohen, P.C. for their additional insight into the potential ramifications of driving while intoxicated.