Beyond Alcohol: How Other Drugs Affect Driver Performance

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.drug-dui-los-angeles-defense-attorney

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.

Marijuana

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.”

Cocaine

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.

ADHD Medications

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 (Benzos)

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.
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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.

Tranquilizers

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.

Source: Beyond Alcohol: How Other Drugs Affect Driver Performance — Los Angeles DUI Attorney Blog — April 23, 2017

Motorist with meth lab in car arrested during traffic stop for driving erratically

 (MLive file photo)

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.

http://www.mlive.com/news/jackson/index.ssf/2017/07/msp_motorist_with_meth_lab_in.html

Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus

New Illinois Supreme Court Case – The HGN Test Is Not All It’s Been Touted to Be:The Supreme Court of Illinois  in The People of the State of Illinois v. Joanne Mckown last week issued an opinion regarding the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) field sobriety test and made some remarkable findings. First, the Court held that the HGN test can not be used to show actual loss of the normal use of mental or physical faculties, but instead, can only be used to show that a “defendant may have consumed alcohol and may, as a result, be impaired.”  There is no more of this, “they failed the HGN so they are therefore intoxicated” arguments.Second, the Court held that just because a scientific test is regularly relied upon in law enforcement does not make it admissible in court.  The test is whether the particular test is relied upon in the scientific community, not the law enforcement community. Third, just because a test meets the standards for admissibility under Frye, that does not preclude the trial court from conducting a balancing test  and deem the evidence “inadmissible on grounds of undue prejudice.”Finally, the Court held that the test must strictly comply with the NHTSA standards for performing the test.  This means the cops aren’t going to be allowed to come in a testify, “I did it the way I was trained to do it.”  They are going to be held to the standard of the NHTSA.Here’s hoping the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will at least read this opinion.  Even more importantly, here’s hoping that the trial courts in Texas will read the case and understand that they truly are gatekeepers for the admission of evidence.

Source: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus : Houston DWI Law Blog

Walks Into a Bar… String Style 

A string walks into a bar with a few friends and orders a beer. The bartender says, “I’m sorry, but we don’t serve strings here.”The string goes back to his table. He ties himself in a loop and messes up the top of his hair. He walks back up to the bar and orders a beer.The bartender squints at him and says, “Hey, aren’t you a string?”The string says, “Nope, I’m a frayed knot.”

Source: Funny Jokes | Walks Into a Bar… String Style Joke | Comedy Central

Woman to serve four years in prison for fatal drunken driving crash

INDIANAPOLIS — A woman accused of driving drunk and killing a 66-year-old Noblesville man was sentenced to four years in prison Wednesday after agreeing to a plea deal.

Elizabeth Vargas-Hernandez, 35, was charged in February with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, operating a vehicle without ever having received a license and causing death when operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated following a fatal crash on I-465.

Indiana State Police say Vargas-Hernandez was driving on I-465 just before 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 13 when she rear-ended a vehicle driven by David Kriehn, 66, of Noblesville, near Michigan Road.

Kriehn was ejected from his 2002 Honda as it rolled into the ditch. He was transported to St. Vincent Hospital, where he died from his injuries.

PREVIOUS CALL 6: Woman accused of driving drunk and killing 66-year-old man did not have license

Vargas-Hernandez’s vehicle also inverted into the ditch. Amazingly, neither she nor three passengers in the vehicle with her at the time of the crash were injured.

On Wednesday, Vargas-Hernandez entered a plea of guilty to one count of causing death while operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content of .15 or greater. A Marion County judge sentenced her to four years in the Indiana Department of Correction. She will also be unable to receive a driver’s license for 10 years.

Vargas-Hernandez could also potentially face deportation upon her release from prison, as police believe she is an undocumented Mexican national.

http://www.theindychannel.com/news/crime/woman-to-serve-four-years-in-prison-for-fatal-drunken-driving-crash

How long can police detain me for a traffic stop?

Consider a hypothetical: a police officer stops you for a minor traffic violation or suspicion of an Oklahoma DUI charge. He goes through the usual routine of checking your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance, and they all check out. He writes you a warning about the traffic infraction. You think that the encounter is over, and want to get on your way. But for some reason, the officer does not seem to want to let the matter rest. Next he asks you for permission to walk a drug sniffer dog around your vehicle. You refuse to give permission, and the officer refuses to let you leave. Backup arrives. The officer does the dog pass around your car anyway, and the dog alerts to the presence of an illegal drug. You are arrested on charges for drug possession.You ask yourself: was it reasonable for the officer to continue the traffic stop once he issued the warning? How long is too long to conduct a routine traffic stop?Interestingly, earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court examined this very issue, and its conclusion may make a significant difference in how police perform traffic stops in Oklahoma and other states.The above hypothetical is not just a thought experiment. It really happened to a driver in another state. The driver argued that prolonging the traffic stop without any basis in reasonable suspicion violated his constitutional rights and that accordingly the drug evidence should be suppressed. The prosecution countered that the added time – seven to eight minutes – represented only a “de minimis” intrusion on the driver’s personal liberty and was therefore acceptable. The trial court sided with the prosecution, as did the Court of Appeals. For its part, however, the US Supreme Court disagreed. In an opinion that found support from both its conservative and liberal Justices, it ruled that unless reasonable suspicion exists for the officer to do a drug search, including a dog sniff, he or she cannot extend a traffic stop to search for drugs in your car. The officer can stop you long enough to complete the “mission” of the traffic stop – for example, to issue you a ticket or warning for the original reason for stopping you – but then must let you go without prolonging the stop in the hope that a dog sniff of your vehicle might turn up something. The Court also disagreed with the prosecution’s argument that if the officer conducting the traffic stop does it “expeditiously” that should somehow grant additional time for a drug search.  In short, performing a dog sniff test is beyond the scope of the mission of a vehicle stop based on a traffic violation, meaning that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution cannot countenance absent grounds for reasonable suspicion for a search. If you are held longer than you believe is reasonable for a traffic stop, and police use that extra time to do a drug search of your vehicle, you should inform your defense attorney of this – it might make the difference between being convicted of an offense or not.

Source: Oklahoma DUI

Car with ax in roof, no doors or windshield leads to driving while on drugs arrest

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.

Source: Car with ax in roof, no doors or windshield leads to driving while on drugs arrest – The Buffalo News

Should I Take the Breathalyzer if I am Pulled Over for DUI/DWI

As a Maryland DUI/DWI Attorney I am frequently asked by friends and acquaintences whether they should take the breathalyzer if they are stopped for suspicion of Driving Under the Influence . This question is almost invariably followed by the statement, “because I have always heard that you should never take it”.

I am not completely sure where this idea that one should never take the breathalyzer came from, although I suspect it is simply dated advice that is still being recirculated because in my view, under most circumstances, a person who is stopped by the police should take the breathalyzer if asked to do so. Here’s why:

As most people are aware, significant changes have been made to the law regarding Driving Under the Influence over the past 20 years. For instance, 20 years ago the legal limit was a BAC of .12 as opposed to .08 today for Driving Under the Influence. In those days judges were also far more likely to give a well represented defendant the benefit of the doubt in cases where there was no breathalyzer. The administrative sanctions imposed by the MVA for refusing the breathalyzer were also far less severe than they are today. The bottom line was in those days not taking the breathalyzer gave you a better shot at being found not guilty in criminal court and did not subject you to extreme administrative penalties. It may very well have been sound legal advice to advise people to never take the breathalyzer before these changes.

Today, the police are trained much better than they were in the past and know how to observe and explain a suspects intoxicated behavior in language that is persuasive to judges and juries in most cases. Laws have also been changed to aid prosecutions in which the breathalyzer was not taken. For instance, it used to be the case that the State was not even allowed to mention the fact that a test was not taken to the judge or the jury. Today, they are allowed to argue to the judge or jury that they should draw a negative inference from the defendant’s refusal to submit to the breathalyzer.

In recent years judges have also been trained, and some my say also cajoled by groups such as MADD, into being much more likely to convict without the benefit of the test. Finally the administrative penalties are much harsher today than in the past. Today for a first refusal there is a mandatory suspension of 120 days. A second or subsequent refusal requires a suspension of a year. There is no provision for a work restricted license such as there is when the test is taken. The only way around the suspension is to participate in the interlock program for a year.

Unfortunately, the decision as to whether to take the test was further complicated a few years ago when the legislature changed the law to increase the adminstrative sactions for readings of .15 or greater. These higher readings now require a 90 days suspension that, like the refusal, may not be modified unless the person participates in the interlock program.

So what is my advice? Today, I tell people that if you are not completely intoxicated and it is your first offense, in most situations you are better off to cooperate fully to include taking the breathalyzer. For the reasons explained herein, there is really little to gain in criminal court by not taking the test and refusing to do so will ensure the much more onerous administrative sanctions I described. On the other hand, if the test is taken and the result is below .15, the person will only face a 45 day suspension that may be modified so that the person can drive to and from work. This is obviously far easier to deal with than a mandatory 120 day suspension or a year with the “blow and go”

Source: Should I Take the Breathalyzer if I am Pulled Over for DUI/DWI — Maryland Criminal Attorney Blog — February 28, 2012