A recent study from researchers at the University of Cincinnati found that a disturbing number of drivers have operated motor vehicles under the influence of drugs. According to the data, one in five drivers used marijuana before getting behind the wheel. Being under the influence of drugs significantly impairs coordination, decision-making, and reaction time, which are all essential for safe driving.
Marijuana is not the only drug that poses a threat on the roads. Opioids, methamphetamines, cocaine, and sedatives alter driving and are widely-available. For these reasons, drivers, passengers, and pedestrians need to know about the rise in drug use among motorists and what to do if they are injured in a drugged driving accident.
How Do Drugs Affect the Body?
In 2018, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) analyzed data of fatal motor vehicle accidents and found nearly 44 percent of deceased drivers tested positive for drugs. That number was up 29 percent from just a decade prior. Drugs affect the body in the following ways:
- Marijuana: Marijuana impairs judgement, slows reaction time, and can alter judgement and memory.
- Opiates: Morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and other opiates and opioids relieve pain and create a sense of euphoria. Opiates also cause confusion and drowsiness.
- Sedatives: Used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, prescription sedatives slow brain activity and breathing, alter depth perception, and impair cognition.
- Cocaine: Cocaine makes users feel alert and energetic, but those temporary feelings lead to paranoia, anger, and an extreme sensitivity to touch, light, and sound.
- Methamphetamines: People use methamphetamines for an immediate rush of confidence and energy, but it comes with serious side effects, including paranoia, hallucinations, and convulsions.
The side effects of drugs affect the ability to drive safely. When drugs are mixed with alcohol, the effects can be even more extreme.
Why is Drugged Driving on the Rise?
There are a few reasons why drugged driving is increasing in the United States:
Legalization of Marijuana
The changing attitude toward marijuana use is seemingly increasing drugged driving traffic violations and car accidents. More states are decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it for medicinal and recreational use every year. Since it is more accessible and acceptable, drivers are more inclined to assume it is safe for driving, but this is not the case.
Opioids are a group of drugs used under a physician’s guidance to prevent pain. However, they are also highly addictive, and when patients run out of prescription opioids, they often turn to heroin. In 2017, the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared the opioid crisis in the United States as a public health emergency. Since these drugs are prescribed by a health care provider, patients often think it is okay to use them and drive. However, driving under the influence of any drug is dangerous.
Imperfect Drug Testing
Unlike portable breathalyzer devices used to test a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level, accurate tests to determine if a person ingested drugs are not readily available at this time. Drugged driving testing is an imperfect science because even if a blood, saliva, or urine tests confirms drug use, it does not necessarily mean a driver was impaired while driving. Some drugs stay in a person’s system for hours or days after consumption. Additionally, much is still unknown about how many over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs affect drivers. Until drug testing is perfected, police and other first responders must rely on eyewitness observations, sobriety tests, and other ways to determine if a driver is impaired.
What are the Drugged Driving Penalties in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, it is unlawful to operate a moving vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance. There is zero tolerance for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Anyone who does so can be arrested and possibly convicted if traces of specific controlled substances are detected in the blood or if a driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Compared with more lenient laws in other states, Pennsylvania only requires a police officer’s reasonable suspicion of impairment. Also, anyone suspected of impairment from legal or prescribed medications can be cited for illegal driving under the influence of drugs.
Driving under the influence of drug penalties in Pennsylvania depend on how many offenses the driver has been convicted for. A first conviction brings jail time of up to six months, fines ranging between $1,000 and $5,000, and a year-long license suspension. Each additional offense brings higher fines and more jail time. Some offenders must complete mandatory drug and alcohol treatment as well.
What Should I Do if I am Hit by an Impaired Driver?
After any car accident, it is important to call for help immediately. Once police arrive, calmly and truthfully explain exactly what happened. Always mention if the other driver seemed impaired or was driving erratically in any way leading up to the crash.
The officer at the scene has the discretion to request the driver to submit a breathalyzer, blood, or urine test. Pennsylvania’s implied consent law states that any driver in the state has given consent for blood or breath tests. However, tests are not permitted for any random traffic stop. The law only applies to drivers suspected of operating a vehicle under the influence. Refusal to be tested brings a 12-month license suspension.
Filing a Personal Injury Claim for a Drugged Driving Accident
Criminal charges happen first in every drugged driving case. A lawyer can use the evidence collected by police to build their case. Signs of impairment are powerful and can be supported by other proof of negligence, such as if the driver ran a stop sign or fled the scene.
After an accident, anyone who has been hurt should carefully preserve any evidence related to the case, such as medical reports, prescriptions, and bills for physical therapy. These records verify the extent of a person’s injuries and how the injuries have impacted their everyday life. Head, neck, spine conditions, amputations, and other catastrophic injuries can leave victims unable to work, earn an income, or provide companionship to loved ones.
Drugged driving cases are among the more complex types of personal injury claims in Pennsylvania. Proving impairment is not an easy task, but it is essential. Making a link between a drugged driver’s reckless actions and a collision is the key to achieving justice and compensation for a victim’s pain, medical bills, and lost wages.
Unlike drunk driving accidents, where it is presumed a driver with a BAC over the legal limit was impaired, the same presumption cannot be made when it comes to legal and illegal drugs. For this reason, it is important to hire the right lawyer for a drugged driving accident case. It takes a knowledgeable and determined car accident lawyer to build a strong claim, show liability, and prove an injured victim deserves damages for monetary losses.
Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Provide Skilled and Exceptional Legal Guidance to Drugged Driving Accident Victims
Statistics show that drugged driving is much more common than it was just a decade ago. Driving under the influence of drugs endangers everyone on the roadways. If you are a victim of a drugged driving collision, a Philadelphia car accident lawyer at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC can help you with your case. We have extensive experience tackling tough car accident claims, and our team is ready to advocate for you. Call 215-569-8488 or complete our online form for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Abington, and Media, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; and Haddonfield, New Jersey, and we serve clients throughout the surrounding areas.