Most people are fairly familiar with the effects that drinking alcohol can have on their driving performance. Alcohol loosens inhibitions, so people are apt to take more risks even as their reaction times are slowed, and they can become more easily distracted and unable to concentrate on driving. Alcohol can also impact a driver’s sense of direction and their ability to judge situations on the road and make good decisions.
Other types of drugs have similar, although not identical effects. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s most recent National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers found that the number of drivers with alcohol in their system had declined by nearly one-third since 2007. But there wasn’t much cause for celebration; the survey also found a large increase in the number of drivers using marijuana or other illegal drugs. Nearly one in four drivers tested positive for at least one drug that could affect their safety on the road, according to the NHTSA.
Here’s a look at how several other types of drugs can impact drivers’ performance.
Whether you call it pot, cannabis, Mary Jane or something else, marijuana can have a suprisingly profound impact on driving skills. This has become more of a concern since seven states and the District of Columbia of Columbia have now legalized the recreational use of pot, many other states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of it and other states are allowing its use for medical reasons.
One of the problems in determining the effects of marijuana is that it can be smoked or eaten in food, which can affect the way that the body reacts to it. The amount of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) in products also varies. In addition, there are no good tests to determine how much THC is actively influencing a driver, since the chemical remains in the bloodstream for durations that are hard to predict through simple tests. For instance, the half life of the drug and its metabolites depends sensitively on things like your weight, your genetics, your metabolism, etc.
In general terms, however, it’s clear that marijuana can have a detrimental effect on driving. A study at the University of Iowa, funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, looked at the impacts that inhaled marijuana had on driving. (Researchers used a driving simulator). As the levels of THC in their bloodstreams increased, the study participants showed increased weaving within a lane of traffic. (They did not, however, leave the lanes or speed while weaving as often as those participants who consumed alcohol did.) The researchers also found that those who consumed both alcohol and marijuana did worse than drivers who had consumed only one of the substances.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Study, “Acute use [of marijuana] has been shown to moderately diminish virtually every driving‐related capacity, generally in a non‐linear dose‐response fashion: psychomotor functions, cognition, attention, vigilance, tracking, reaction time and coordination.” Marijuana use is “generally regarded to affect automated/routine driving more than that requiring conscious effort. Effects depend on dose, absorption, time since peak blood level, history of use, and skill/tasks.”
Like marijuana, cocaine can have physical effects on drivers that include heightened nervousness and greater alertness but poorer concentration. Unlike pot smokers, however, cocaine users are more likely to exhibit reckless driving behaviors and/or reduced driving ability, according to a 2008 article in the Traffic Injury Prevention Journal.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) website notes that the observed signs of cocaine impairment in driving performance have included subjects speeding, losing control of their vehicle, causing collisions, turning in front of other vehicles, high-risk behavior, inattentive driving, and poor impulse control. It further states that as the effects of cocaine wear off, subjects may suffer from fatigue, depression, sleepiness, and inattention, which can all impact driving.
Not all drugs have a negative impact on driving. Medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, such as Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta, can actually improve driving skills.
In 2007, the Journal of Safety Research published a scientific literature review that looked at the effect that medications for controlling ADHD could have on driving competence. The authors’ review demonstrated that there were “well-documented driving risks and impairments associated with ADHD” and that there were “positive effects of stimulant medications on driving performance.”
They concluded that “Clinicians should educate patients/caregivers about the increased risk of adverse outcomes among untreated individuals with ADHD and the role of medication in potentially improving driving performance.”
CHADD (the national resource on ADHD) agrees. It points out on its website that drivers with untreated ADHD (especially young drivers) are at greater risk for vehicle accidents and are more likely to receive traffic tickets for speeding, failure to obey traffic laws and reckless driving. “In a striking comparison, the untreated symptoms of ADHD in a teen driver can impair the driver’s ability so much that it resembles intoxicated driving.”
The website also states that “Research shows that teens who are treated for ADHD are better drivers than teens receiving no treatment. Teenagers who have never been treated with stimulant medication are involved in more vehicle crashes than those who had medication treatment for at least three years.”
Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs used to treat disorders such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression and insomnia. Common “benzos” include Klonopin (clonazepam), Ativan (lorazepam), Valium (diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam).
Benzos can be very helpful in treating people with anxiety and most people can use them safely. But according to established research, users can suffer a battery of side effects that include drowsiness and a hangover-like-state that affects driving ability.
Many people worry about the effects that marijuana legalization will have on DUI. But the dangers of driving while under the influence of benzodiazepines may have been under reported. When the State of Alabama’s Department of Forensic Science conducted a review of traffic stops, they discovered that benzos were the second leading cause of impaired driving in the state. They found that Xanax was involved in 29 percent of DUI cases in the state, while marijuana was involved in only 23 percent of DUIs.
Drugs like Valium (diazepam), Halcyon (triazolam) and Librium (Chlordiazepoxide) are all examples of tranquilizers. They may have effects similar to alcohol on driving: they dull the senses and impair decision-making ability.
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has warned about the dangers of driving while on tranquilizers. For example, the NHTSA notes that “diazepam is a moderate tranquilizer, causing sleepiness, drowsiness, confusion, and some loss of anterograde memory.” (Anterograde memory is the linked to the ability to remember new information.)
The NHTSA further warns that “At high doses, excitement, disinhibition, severe sedation, and effects on respiration occur, particularly if respiration is impaired by other drugs or by disease. Diazepam can produce a state of intoxication similar to that of alcohol, including slurred speech, disorientation, and drunken behavior.”
Oklahoma’s Emergency Medical Services Authority says that the use of tranquilizers can lead to a lack of coordination, altered perceptions and slower reaction time. Drivers on tranquilizers don’t track the road as well as sober drivers, struggle to maintain lane positon and frequently neglect roadside instruction.
The Michigan State Police Jackson post provided the following log of activities for the weekend of July 21 to July 23 with troopers investigating 70 incidents and calls for service.
Possession with Intent to Deliver / Operating While Impaired: Jackson County, Blackman Township: Troopers conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle driving erratically. Upon contact the driver, a 25-year-old male from Eaton Rapids, was found operating while in possession of drugs, with intent to deliver, operating and maintaining a methamphetamine laboratory, and driving while under the influence of marijuana. The suspect was arrested and lodged at the Jackson County Jail.
Operating While Impaired: Jackson County, City of Jackson: Troopers conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle for a defective exhaust. Upon contact the driver, a 24-year-old male from Waldron, was found to be operating under the influence of alcohol. The suspect was arrested and lodged at the Hillsdale County Jail.
A car stopped in the Town of Wethersfield with no windshield, doors or a license plate and with an ax in the roof led to the arrest of the driver on charges of driving while impaired by drugs, the Wyoming County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.After receiving a report about a “suspicious vehicle” on Monday, deputies pulled over a car with many missing parts driven by Jared T. Price, 21, of Java, at the intersection of Younger and Wethersfield roads, the sheriff’s office said.”Price performed poorly on field sobriety testing and was taken into custody,” according to a sheriff’s office news release.Price was taken to the sheriff’s office for a drug influence evaluation and a certified Drug Recognition Expert found him to be “impaired by multiple different drug categories,” officials said.ADVERTISEMENTJared T. Price (Provided by Wyoming County Sheriff’s Office)He was charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs, driving while ability impaired by the combined influence of drugs and numerous traffic infractions, including operating a vehicle without insurance.Price was arraigned in the Town of Gainesville Court where bail was set in the amount of $10,000 cash bail or $20,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear Aug. 1 in the Town of Wethersfield Court.
A Trout Run woman driving this car admitted that she “used two bags of heroin” minutes before she crashed into a guardrail in the 7500 block of Route 15 in Lycoming Township about noon Thursday, according to Old Lycoming Township Police Chief Joseph Hope. The woman’s juvenile son, riding in the vehicle, escaped injury, Hope said. The woman was taken to a local hospital and later released. Her name will be released when charges are filed, Hope said. About 10 minutes before this crash, another woman suffered a suspected heroin overdose as she crashed her Honda Element into a parked van on Boyd Street, city police said. She too was taken to the hospital and released. Charges are pending against her as well, police said.
Troy police arrested a 25-year-old Royal Oak woman for operating a vehicle while under the influence of narcotics with her 10-month-old daughter in the back seat.Officers responded to the area of Livernois and Maple roads at about 5:45 p.m. Sunday, July 23, on a report of a gray 2002 Mercury Sable being driven erratically.Officers saw the car enter the Citgo gas station at 1654 Livernois and spoke with the woman. Police say the woman was unsteady on her feet and had slurred speech. She had the prescription drugs Xanax and Norco in her purse.Officers asked her to perform several field sobriety tests and reported that she performed poorly.She was arrested and taken to the Troy lock-up facility where she agreed to submit to a blood test.She was charged with child endangerment and operating a vehicle while under the influence of narcotics, pending laboratory results.
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Billings man charged with vehicular homicide while under the influence of marijuana is challenging the state standard at which a person is considered to be under the influence.
Public defender Gregory Paskell says the THC blood level set by the state is arbitrary, and he’s asking that the charge against Kent Roderick Jensen be dismissed.
Jensen, 20, is charged in the March 2016 death of motorcyclist Jashua Fry, The Billings Gazette (http://bit.ly/2uihlM3 ) reports. Court records say Jensen pulled out onto a road without seeing the motorcycle, causing the fatal crash.
Jensen’s blood contained 19 nanograms per milliliter of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, court records said. State law says a person is under the influence with a blood level of 5 ng/mL of THC.
Paskell cited studies that have concluded it’s difficult to standardize the amount of THC that creates impairment because it varies from person to person.
“There is no science to back up the 5 ng/mL level as a level that indicates impairment in a sizable enough portion of users to make it a standard for everyone,” Paskell wrote.
Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Victoria Callender said the Legislature, which makes policy decisions, set the legal limit based on research and that the case should move forward.
Montana is one of 18 states with marijuana-specific impaired driving laws, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. A dozen states have zero tolerance for marijuana or its metabolites.
Colorado, Montana and Washington’s driving limits of 5 ng/mL are the highest among the six states that list legal limits. Colorado allows defendants to argue they were not impaired at that level, but Montana and Washington laws are similar to blood-alcohol limits, which drivers cannot challenge.
District Judge Gregory Todd heard arguments on June 2 and then received written briefs. He has not ruled in the case. Jensen’s trial is scheduled for late August.
A man accused of trafficking in carfentanil in Red Deer will have a preliminary hearing next February.Carfentanil was found in a mixture of drugs seized by Red Deer RCMP in March, making it the first known seizure of the deadly opioid in the Red Deer area.The drugs that tested positive for carfentanil, fentanyl and caffeine were seized during an investigation of two Red Deer residences.RCMP said that carfentanil is 100 times more toxic than fentanyl. Its only legal use is to sedate large animals.Police said fentanyl and carfentanil are inexpensive when compared to drugs such as cocaine and heroin, which is incentive for drug dealers to mix or substitute it in order to increase their profit margins.Kim Proctor, 38, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of possession for the purpose of trafficking, two counts of possession of a controlled substance, two counts of unauthorized possession of a firearm, two counts of possession of a weapon obtained by crime and possession of property obtained by crime.A preliminary hearing is held to determine if there is enough evidence to send a case to trial. It is often used to test the strength of a Crown prosecutor’s case. Proctor’s hearing is set for Feb. 9, 2018.
Depending on where you live, it’s known by many different abbreviations — DUI, DWI, OWI — but they are all short for driving (or operating a motor vehicle) while impaired or intoxicated.
Whatever the language, when most people hear these references, they probably first think of someone who has had too much alcohol to drink and then got behind the wheel.
For decades, police and highway safety officials and many other groups have gotten the word out about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Indeed, most people likely know that the legal limit for blood alcohol content while driving in Michigan (and most of the United States) is 0.08 percent. Likewise, they also probably have a pretty good idea about how much alcohol is in various drinks and the notion that the body generally can metabolize about one standard drink per hour.
Despite this, driving under the influence of alcohol remains a very common offense in the court system.
However, there is another section of the “driving under the influence” law that gets far less attention — driving under the influence of drugs. More specifically, in addition to alcohol, the law forbids driving under the influence of “controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance.”
Often when someone does think of “drugged driving,” he or she likely conjures up an image of a someone strung out on methamphetamine or heroin getting behind the wheel.
While that scenario does happen, local law enforcement officials say in recent years the more common scenario is people getting behind the wheel who are impaired by one or more prescription drugs.
In some cases, it could be someone with a long-standing prescription drug abuse problem, in other instances, it could be someone who was just recently prescribed some painkillers for a recent injury or surgery.
Understanding the law
While most people understand the 0.08 percent alcohol limit, there are other ways you can run afoul of the driving under the influence law:
First, even if your blood alcohol content is less than 0.08, you still could be charged with driving while intoxicated or visibly impaired. The police and, ultimately the prosecutor, would just need to show that you had consumed alcohol and that because of it, your “ability to operate a motor vehicle in a normal manner was substantially lessened,” or your “ability to operate the motor vehicle is visibly impaired.”
These more subjective tests are also what applies to driving under the influence of a controlled substance such as a prescription drug.
Although there is no “bright line” test for prescription controlled substances, there is for illegal drugs, or what’s known as “schedule 1” controlled substances.
For these drugs it is illegal to drive with any amount in your system. The list of schedule 1 controlled substances is very long, but generally, they are the illegal drugs that most people think of, such as heroin or methamphetamine.
For prescription drugs, such as some well known painkillers that contain oxycodone, and many more it’s not automatically illegal to drive after you’ve taken them, but also, just because you have a prescription for a drug, doesn’t mean you are OK to drive after taking it either, Emmet County Prosecuting Attorney James Linderman said.
And it’s not just painkillers that can be an issue.
Other drugs the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists among drugs that could in cause problems with driving to include:
— Prescription drugs for anxiety
— Some antidepressants
— Products containing codeine
— Some cold remedies and allergy products
— Sleeping pills
— Some diet pills, “stay awake” drugs, and other medications with stimulants (e.g. caffeine, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine)
Linderman noted that combining these substances with each other, or with other substances such as alcohol or inhalants, can make it even more difficult to estimate the effects on a person’s ability to drive.
“It’s very subjective to begin with, and it varies widely from person to person,” Linderman said. “With an aging population and poly-substance abusers, it can become very difficult.”
Petoskey Department of Public Safety Director Matthew Breed said his officers are seeing more and more instances of people driving under the influence of prescription drugs.
In fact, he said just within the last week one of his public safety officers arrested a man on suspicion of driving under the influence of prescription drugs.
Breed said the incident involved dispatchers at 911 receiving multiple reports of a person driving very badly, who then went off the road twice and was involved in at least one crash. Breed said the man reported that he had taken two prescriptions, and that he was clearly under the influence of them.
He said one tool that has become available for officers is a new type of training that differs slightly from the standard field sobriety tests. The test is known as advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement.
“We’ve seen a significant uptick in the amount of people for are operating under the influence of prescription drugs,” Breed said. “It’s a more significant problem than people realize.”
Breed also said it can be very difficult for people — especially those who are new to taking a particular prescription — to know if its safe for them to drive.
So, what is the best advice for someone taking something that might affect their ability to drive?
First, Breed said, pay attention to warning labels that come on your prescriptions.
“If that label says it may affect your ability to drive or operate machinery, be careful,” he said. “Different people process those chemicals differently.”
Linderman also noted, “You better take the medications as prescribed, too.”
Breed added, “If you feel any type of effect after taking a medication, good judgement would dictate that you don’t drive.”
He noted that research shows that without any effects of drugs or alcohol, it typically takes a person about 3/4 of a second to perceive something while driving and another 3/4 of a second to take action.
He noted that in 1.5 seconds a vehicle traveling at 55 mph travels about 120 feet, and anything that adds to that response time could have tragic consequences.
Hendrix Caje Johnston was driving through Ranchos de Taos on Monday (July 3) when members of New Mexico State Police pulled him over for allegedly speeding and crossing traffic lines. He was initially only charged with DWI, but after a search warrant approved for the driver’s vehicle led to the alleged discovery of narcotics, multiple felony charges were added to Johnston’s rap sheet.
The suspect, whom police have identified as a Taos County resident, was stopped by a state police officer around 4 p.m. while traveling along State Road 68. According to a state police press release, Johnston, 25, “did not pull over immediately” and traveled a short distance before stopping at the side of the road. The release, however, did not specify whether Johnston was confused as to whether his was the vehicle the officer intended to pull over or whether he was in an unsafe area to comply when given the command.
When the officer approached the vehicle, he stated that he could smell a “strong odor” of marijuana that seemed to be coming from within the suspect’s vehicle. Johnston’s eyes were allegedly “red” and he appeared “sluggish,” according to the arresting officer. The suspect admitted to having consumed marijuana, but said that he did so only the day before. He also allegedly admitted to having marijuana inside the vehicle.
He then agreed to take a sobriety test, leading the officer to determine that “Mr. Johnston appeared to be impaired and unable to safely operate the vehicle.” He was immedietely arrested for DWI.
Upon further inspection, the officer said they could see drug paraphernalia in the console of the suspect’s vehicle, which was then towed to the New Mexico State Police office in Taos. A request for a search warrant was approved, leading officers to allegedly discover “containers and bags consistent with the trafficking of narcotics, as well as scales, devices commonly used for the production of narcotics, and other drug paraphernalia.” Police also claimed to have located heroin and methamphetamine, leading to additional drug possession charges – both felonies.
Public Information Officer Elizabeth Armijo stated that officers had performed initial field tests on the suspected narcotics with drug testing kits, “thus giving [probable] cause for those charges,” she said. The drugs, however, have not been submitted to the State Crime Lab for “further, specific testing,” she said.
While the initial tests may have provided probable cause to levy the charges, a failure to send drugs to the lab in a “timely manner” may lead to charges being dismissed. Such was the result in one of Johnston prior cases from 2016. Just this year, the fourth-degree felony drug possession charge stemming from the case was dropped “on the grounds that the drugs in this matter were not sent to the State Crime Lab in a timely fashion,” according to court records. The decision on the matter came less than one month ago: June 14. Prior to the charge, Johnston’s record included only relatively minor traffic violations, according to New Mexico court records.