DRUGGED DRIVING PART 2
Drugged Driving Part 2
Drugged Driving Continued .... The Growing Threat
In Part 1, we talked about impaired driving from drugs other than alcohol, with marijuana and prescription drugs being of high concern. Here in Part 2, we focus on roadblocks to establishing standards.
There are roadblocks To establishing standards for impaired driving:
Ignorance. People are simply not aware that even common drugs such as the anti anxiety drug Xanax or even certain cough medicines can seriously impair driving ability. In fact for Xanax, this warning is included in the drug literature - “The sedative effects of Xanax may last longer in older adults. Accidental falls are common in elderly patients who take benzodiazepines. Use caution to avoid falling or accidental injury while you are taking Xanax.”
The effects of specific drugs differ depending on how they act in the brain. Marijuana can slow reaction time, impair judgment of time and distance, and lessen motor coordination.
Despite this, users still do not acknowledge that it affects their driving. However, there is no denying that these substances do affect focus and concentration, judgment and reaction time while driving and could potentially cause serious accidents.
Lack of research that would establish levels of drug in the blood that would impair driving. Unlike in drunk driving where there is already a standard - .08 percent of blood alcohol content for drivers 21 years and older, there has yet to be a “per se” law for drugged driving. While it is illegal in all states to drive while under the influence of alcohol, there’s still no consistent method across states for identifying drug impairment.
In fact, establishing a standard may be very difficult, if not impossible because of varied effects of different drugs, the duration of those effects, the way the body metabolizes drugs and other factors. Experts point out that the “per se” law may even work against itself.
People may assume that since their drug intake falls below the limit, it will not affect their driving. In case they get involved in accidents, it would be difficult to convict them even if their driving was clearly impaired just because their blood test show a number below the per se law.
Because marijuana is already legal in the four states mentioned earlier and with more to follow suit, it becomes compelling to conduct more research to help states and traffic-safety organizations understand its potential safety implications. In Washington for instance, there is a research that is looking into the relationship between the state’s new laws on marijuana use and the incidence of cannabis-impaired driving, as well as the relationship between acute marijuana use and car crashes.
The Role of Law Enforcers
While the debate rages on how an effective tool the blood test would be in determining impaired driving, the best solution to the problem would ultimately seem to be specially trained law enforcement officers called DRE’s or Drug Recognition Experts.
Aside from conducting the standard roadside sobriety tests, DRE’s use an additional set of very specific observations that record verbal abilities, pupil dilation, body temperature, muscle tone, pulse rate, agility and other indicators of impairment. Formal studies have already validated their effectualness and DRE’s have proven successful at recognizing drug impairment and even at recognizing the drug involved. And because of this, the evidence stands up in court in case of litigations.
The race is on against the rising menace of drugged driving but with just 7,500 DRE’s among the 90,000 commissioned officers in the country, there is still a lot of ground to be covered.
SOME DRUG FACTS
Which drugs are linked to drugged driving?
Next to alcohol, marijuana is the most linked to drugged driving. In the 2013-2014 National Roadside Survey, 12.6 percent of drivers on weekend nights tested positive for THC. This was significantly higher than the 8.6 percent who tested positive in 2007.
On the other hand, a 2010 nationwide study of fatal crashes showed that 46.5 percent of drivers who tested positive for drugs had used a prescription drug, 36.9 percent had used marijuana and 9.8 percent had used cocaine.
The most common prescription drugs involved are:
Alprazolam (Xanax®), an anti-anxiety medicine —12.1 percent
Hydrocodone (Vicodin®), used to relieve moderate to severe pain—11.1 percent
Oxycodone (OxyContin®), a pain reliever and cough suppressant —10.2 percent
Diazepam (Valium®), used to treat anxiety disorders —8.4 percent
We’d love to hear your thoughts.
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