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DUI & Legal Drugs in Washington: More Dangerous Than You Might Think & It's Not Just Marijuana Causing the Dangers

Posted by Aaron J. Wolff | Aug 31, 2017 | 0 Comments

First thing's first: driving under the influence of drugs does not pertain to illicit drugs only, but any and all drugs that can have an intoxicating effect and alter your mindset. Second, though marijuana is legal, you still can't drive if under its influence, and you should remember that THC stays in your system for days, so if tested but you haven't smoked for a day, you could still have a problem on your hands, at least until a reliable test is developed. Third, though your legal medication is supposed to do one thing, for instance, increase erectile function, you can't drive if there are side-effects that alter your mindset, and you should certainly be careful if you intentionally overdoes on the legal drugs. The latter is exactly what happened this year in mid July.

On July 16, 2017, a 59-year-old man took five "generic" viagra pills and then crashed into a Seattle garage. It is unsure what the man meant by "generic," but he was cited and arrested for DUI. This man was probably only thinking about his erectile dysfunction and not what other effects taking the drug (or too much of it) could have on him, but that's not the point. The point is: just because a drug is legal does not mean it's okay to drive. In fact, if statistics have anything to say about it, drugged driving can be deadly, equivalent to or possibly more so than drunk driving, and while victims of drunk drivers tend to be persons in other vehicles, victims of drugged driving tend to be the drugged driver him or herself.

The Statistics on Drug-Impaired Driving

Extensive data is not available on drugged driving as it is on drinking and driving, but AAA reports that "[p]rescription drugs are the most prevalent of all drugs found in drugged drivers who are involved in fatal crashes (46.5%), and the percentage has continually increased since 2005." Another report, Drug-Impaired Driving: A Guide for States, released in April 2017 by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, found similar findings. Their analysis of nationwide data from 2015 indicates that nearly 43% of fatally-injured drivers tested positive for legal or illegal drugs. The report highlights the difference in percentages between fatally-injured drugged drivers and drivers drinking with a .08% BAC or higher, the latter of which in the same year represented 37% percent of fatally-injured drivers. In other words, 43% of drivers who died in car accidents tested positive for either legal or illegal drugs.

The drugs found in fatally or seriously injured drivers ranged from legal non-medicinal, legally prescribed, over-the-counter, and illegal drugs. Just over 12% of positive drug results showed THC in the blood. Benzodiazepines (for anxiety or sleep disorders) and opiates (pain relief) were the two primary prescription drugs found, ,but their percentages are less clear.

Impaired Perceptions of the Dangers of Drugs v. Alcohol

According to the above statistics, drugged driving actually presents the greater risk to you than does drinking and driving. Nonetheless, AAA reports that 66% of drivers consider drinking and driving as a "very serious threat" while 56% think the same of illegal drugs and only 28% feel the same about prescription drugs.

These perceptions are ill-conceived. The following chart of data from roadside surveys taken from the Drug-Impaired Driving: A Guide for States report illustrates just why these perceptions are wrong.

Roadside Surveys of Drivers Weekday Days Weekend Nights
Tested positive for some drug or medication 22.4% 22.5%
- Illegal drugs, including marijuana 12.1% 15.2%
- Medication 10.3% 7.3%
- Marijuana 11.7% 12.6%
- Alcohol 1.1% 8.3%

Maybe because there are more campaigns promoting the dangers of drinking alcohol and driving, people tend to believe driving under the influence of alcohol poses a greater risk than drugs. What you need to take home from this blog is that drugs, generic or not, prescribed or not, illegal or not, can alter your mindset, and if they do and you drive, you could end up crashing into a garage, or worse: you could become one of these statistics listed above.

Seattle DUI Attorney Aaron Wolff has over 17 years of combined experience- both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney- handling drug-related DUI's.  He can be reached directly at 425-284-2000 or email him directly.

About the Author

Aaron J. Wolff

A former DUI prosecutor, Aaron Wolff has over 18 years of experience in representing people accused of DUI and is recognized as one of the leading defense lawyers in Washington State. His relentless and passionate advocacy has lead to superb ratings and outstanding reviews from former clients.


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