Though everyone knows about the danger and irresponsibility of getting behind a wheel after drinking, few people talk about the similar risks associated with drugged driving. That is changing in law enforcement and in many state legislatures across the country given the increasing occurrence of medication-related wrecks and fatalities on the nation’s roadways.
One terrifying example occurred a few weeks ago when a woman in Georgia was driving the wrong way outside Atlanta and was involved in a car crash that injured five others. The female driver, Beverly Lynne Wilkins, was taking a powerful sedative she had taken from her job as a nurse with an anesthesiology center.
Wilkins is said to have been under the influence of Propofol as she drove for three miles the wrong way down Ga. 316. Police investigators say they found an IV bag with a used needle in Wilkins’ car and believe she injected herself with several vials right before her wreck.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the problem of impaired driving is not limited to alcohol. Driving under the influence of prescription drugs raises many of the same concerns given that powerful medication can act on the brain to impair a person’s motor skills, reaction time and judgment. Drugged driving is a public health concern because it puts not only the driver at risk, but also passengers and others who share the road.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 2007 National Roadside Survey, more than 16% of weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter medications while more than 11% tested positive for illicit drugs. Another NHTSA study found that in 2009, among fatally injured drivers, 18% tested positive for at least one, a number that marked a 13% increase from 2005. These results indicate that not enough has been done to educate the public about the true danger of driving under the influence of medication.
Despite the information available regarding the danger of drugged driving, the nation’s laws have yet to reflect the severity of the crime. Though alcohol detection is relatively easy, the presence of illicit drugs is more difficult to measure and there is no agreed upon impairment limit. Many states, including Tennessee, don’t list specific requirements for what measurements of substances amount to intoxicated driving the way that 0.08% blood alcohol concentration is specified for alcohol-related arrests. Instead, Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-10-401(a) vaguely says that a person is guilty of driving under the influence if he or she drives or is in physical control of any motor driven vehicle while under the influence of any intoxicant, marijuana, or narcotic drug.
Read: “Driver in wrong-way Gwinnett crash to enter drug rehab,” by David Ibata, published at AJC.com
(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 266-0605.)