The abuse of prescription painkillers, particularly opioids, has significantly increased in recent years. Not surprisingly, so has the number of fatal car crashes caused by drivers under the influence.
According to the Tennessee Highway Patrol, these crashes rose 89 percent in our state between 2010 and 2015. Drugged driving is now the cause of more fatal accidents in Tennessee than either drunk or distracted driving. Last year, 174 people lost their lives in crashes where drugs were determined to be a factor.
The drugs involved in these crashes range from marijuana to hydrocodone to methamphetamine to Xanax. Many prescription painkillers not only can cause drowsiness, but slow the brain processes.
The increase in people driving under the influence of drugs has presented challenges for law enforcement and prosecutors not just here in Tennessee, but across the country. Unlike with alcohol, there are no specific legal limits the amount of drugs a person can have in his or her system while behind the wheel. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving are advocating for such limits.
Further, there aren’t roadside tests that can definitively measure whether someone is impaired by drugs. Tennessee is increasing its efforts to train officers to identify the signs of drug impairment, such as dilated pupils. Currently, however, only about 115 officers are certified throughout the state as Drug Recognition Experts
Nonetheless, the number of people arrested in Tennessee for drug-impaired driving rose by more than a quarter between 2014 and 2015. Even if people are later determined via toxicology tests to have had drugs in their system, however, proving in court that the drugs impaired their driving can be difficult unless the person admitted to it. Labs are becoming overwhelmed with samples to test, so this can take months.
Regardless of whether a person is convicted of being impaired by drugs when he or she caused an accident, that person can be held civilly liable for causing injuries or death. Tennessee attorneys with experience helping victims of vehicle crashes can provide guidance.
Source: The Tennessean, “Drugged driving overtakes alcohol in Tennessee road deaths,” Mike Reicher, Sep. 29, 2016