Drugged Driving On the Rise; Drunken Driving Wanes: NHTSA

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 10, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The good news: There are fewer drunken drivers on the road. The not-so-good news: There are more "drugged drivers" on the road.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released its 2013-14 survey of 9,000 drivers at 300 locations from coast to coast. The findings: 1.5 percent of weekend drivers had illegal blood-alcohol concentrations, down from 2.2 percent of drivers in 2007 and 7.5 percent of drivers in 1973. Meantime, Reuters reports that 10 times as many drivers surveyed, 15.2 percent, had illegal drugs in their system.

An increase in the prosecution and penalties for drunken driving offenses may be responsible for the drop in alcohol-influenced drivers. But what accounts for the rise in drugged drivers? And how does the law deal with drivers under the influence of legal and illegal drugs?

Driving While High

The NHTSA study showed about a 50 percent jump in weekend nighttime drivers with some level of marijuana in their system over the last seven years.

With more and more states decriminalizing and even legalizing marijuana, it's only natural that more people are driving while under the influence of pot. And it's only natural that cops are on the lookout for these drugged drivers on the road.

Two states that have legalized recreational pot -- Colorado and Washington -- have imposed a legal limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Nationwide, law enforcement officers are using blood tests, mouth swabs, and are even looking into the use of breathalyzers to test potentially stoned drivers.

Of course, marijuana isn't the only drug that drivers are using. According to Reuters, drivers who tested positive for any drug in NHTSA's survey leapt from 16.3 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2014. And as many have learned the hard way, just because you have a prescription doesn't mean you can't get a DUI for drugged driving.

What about over-the-counter cold medicines and the like? Currently, there is no "over-the-counter" defense to DUI. The penalties can be just as severe for driving under the influence of your antihistamines as they are for alcohol and marijuana impairment.

If you're facing a DUI charge -- whether it involves pilsners, pills, or pot -- an experienced DUI lawyer can be your best resource for drunken or drugged driving charges.

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