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Impaired Drivers and You

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on July 22, 2018

Despite years of public campaigns against driving while under the influence, impaired drivers continue to plague our roads. As the Washington Safety Traffic Commission points out, impaired driving is still a leading factor in Washington traffic deaths. And while driving under the influence of alcohol used to be the main issue, with the recent legalization of marijuana, more and more drivers are getting behind the wheel while high, many believing they are not impaired in any way.

However, drugged driving is no safer than drunk driving. Remember, anything that slows that your judgment and your responses is inherently dangerous.

How the Police Deal with Stoned Drivers

In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System reported that in 2016, “drugs were present in 43% of the fatally-injured drivers with a known test result, more frequently than alcohol was present.” In 2013–2014 during a roadside survey, they found drugs in “22% of all drivers both on weekend nights and on weekday days.” In particular, they noticed marijuana use increasing.

Marijuana can impair judgment, slow reaction time, and decrease coordination just like alcohol. Despite the evidence, many people don’t want to face the fact that driving while high is inherently dangerous.

Washington is quite concerned with the situation and wants to increase impaired driving arrests, set up more DUI courts, improve prosecution, and promote the use of ignition interlock devices to deter impaired drivers from hitting the road.

Since there is no “breathalyzer” for marijuana or prescription pills, it is hard for police officers to correctly identify stoned drivers. Screening drunk drivers is fairly straightforward, but trying to figure out who’s under the influence of marijuana, in a way that will hold up in a court of law, is complicated and has to be done by a specially qualified drug recognition examiner.

As of now, Seattle police officers perform field sobriety tests involving physical and mental exercises to determine if a person can safely drive. The common field sobriety tests are:

  • Horizontal gaze nystagmus test: This is a test where a police officer will ask a suspect to follow an object (like a pen or finger) and check his or her eyes for involuntary twitch movements, which tend to show up in people who are under the influence.
  • Walk and turn test: In the walk-and-turn test, you walk in a straight line, turn on one foot, and walk the opposite direction. This test is designed to see if you can follow instructions while performing a physical activity. All the while the officer will be watching your balance, whether you can listen and follow instructions, and looking for any other signs of impairment.
  • One-leg stand: The one-leg stand test is designed to see if the subject can follow oral instructions while doing a physical task. The officer will ask the subject to stand with one foot raised off the ground and count by thousands for thirty seconds. The officer will watch whether you can keep your foot up, if you’re swaying and losing your balance, if you’re hopping around, etc.

Officers might detect the smell of pot wafting from a car, but if they can’t prove drivers are impaired, they oftentimes let them go.

What About Prescription Drugs?

Marijuana is not the only drug that’s contributing to impaired drivers around us. As prescription painkiller addictions soar, more people are driving while high on muscle relaxants, sedatives, or opioids. Some doctors have opened the doors for rampant misuse of prescription medications, and drivers and pedestrians everywhere are suffering because of it. Prescriptions, just like alcohol, can slow reaction time, cause confusion and drowsiness, and impair a person’s ability to judge distances, which can have deadly results on the road.

Here’s why drug-impaired driving is more complicated than alcohol-impaired driving:

  • A multitude of different drugs can impair drivers, both legal and illegal.
  • Over-the-counter drugs can also impair drivers, which many people don’t know.
  • The body’s response to drugs differs from person to person.
  • It’s difficult for police officers to detect drug impairment during a stop.
  • It’s more difficult to convict a driver for drug-impaired driving than it is for alcohol-impaired driving.

Consequently, it can be harder for victims of a drugged driver to get justice. If you or a family member was hit by a drugged driver and sustained an injury, you have enough stress and pain on your plate. You may think you don’t need a Seattle injury attorney when you can simply speak to an insurance adjuster and quickly resolve your case. However, keep in mind you are far more likely to get fair compensation with a knowledgeable lawyer on your side.

Car accidents can happen even in the best circumstances. But there’s no excuse for a wreck caused by an impaired driver. It is careless and irresponsible, and the drivers should be accountable for their reckless actions.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a Seattle-area car accident due to an impaired driver, we can help get you the maximum compensation available to you. Call Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., at (888) 228-3860.

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