While alcohol-impaired driving is a frequently discussed crime in the news and one of the most common causes of traffic fatalities in the U.S., there are far fewer mentions of accidents involving drug-impaired driving. In truth, marijuana and other drugs also degrade the skills a driver needs to safely operate a motor vehicle, including slowed reaction times, loss of coordination, extreme drowsiness or dizziness, or even recklessness behind the wheel, depending on the type of drug the driver was impaired by.

Here is a look at drug-impaired driving and the hazards it creates for others. If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a motor vehicle accident a drug-impaired driver caused, contact an experienced Augusta car accident attorney for advice on your options and help in obtaining compensation.

Fifty-Six Percent of Drivers in Serious or Fatal Crashes Are Drug-Impaired

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that drug-impaired driving is widespread, with more than half of all drivers who caused serious injury or fatal crashes testing positive for at least one drug, based on a study conducted by the administration’s Office of Behavioral Safety Research.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) adds that of all the impairing substances drivers can use, alcohol and marijuana are the most frequently reported substances involved in impaired driving. Nearly 5 percent of drivers who are 16 years and older report driving after using marijuana, including one out of every eight high schoolers.

Seven Million Drivers Report Illegal Drug Use

The CDC also notes that seven million drivers reported using marijuana and other illicit drugs in a year. Different drugs have different effects on a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely while on a public roadway.

The Hazards of Marijuana Use When DrivingMan smoking marijuana in car

As more and more states legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, the more likely users of public roadways are to encounter a driver who is impaired by marijuana, as there is a recurrent myth that the drug does not pose the same negative impacts on driving ability as alcohol.

However, marijuana is usually one of the impairing substances to be used by drivers, with a recent NHTSA study revealing that more than a quarter of drivers who were seriously injured or killed in traffic accidents tested positive for active Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their system.

THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana and is responsible for impacts on driving abilities such as:

  • Slowed reaction times
  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Difficulty maintaining lane position
  • Impaired coordination
  • Distorted perception
  • Difficulty multitasking
  • Drowsiness
  • Distraction

The Correlation Between Increased Marijuana Use and Serious Accidents

A study of the impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado—one of the first states to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use—conducted by Missouri Medicine, the Missouri State Medical Association’s journal, revealed a 109 percent increase in traffic accidents following the state’s legalization in 2013. All traffic-related deaths in Colorado rose by 31 percent during that time. Traffic-related deaths involving marijuana rose from 15 percent to 23 percent in the first five years after legalization.

The study showed not only a growth in motor vehicle accidents involving marijuana impairment but also a 58 percent overall growth in drug use by individuals aged 12 or over.

Marijuana use in Colorado is now 78 percent over the national average, with significant increases in marijuana use by adults and college students. Use among youth in the state, while still 40 percent higher than the national average, actually decreased during the years following the legalization of marijuana for recreational use by those 21 and over.

Contact a personal injury attorney if you believe a driver under the influence of marijuana or another drug caused the accident that injured you or killed a close family member.


How Cocaine and Methamphetamine Use Impair Driving

While alcohol and marijuana are the types of impairing substances usually used by drivers across the US, they are far from the only drugs that can cause impaired driving.

The Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) reports that cocaine– used by some drivers to prevent fatigue- usually results in the driver having difficulty concentrating or making good driving decisions. The driver can experience increased impulsivity, causing them to take more risks.

Drivers using cocaine or methamphetamines are frequently more aggressive and reckless on the roadway.

Driving Hazards Associated With Prescription Drugs

The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists prescription drugs that can impair driving ability, including:

  • Prescription depressants, such as Valium and Xanax, can result in drowsiness, poor concentration, dizziness, confusion, and memory problems.
  • Opioids, frequently found in prescription pain medications such as hydrocodone and codeine, can also cause drowsiness, confusion, and euphoria.
  • Prescription stimulants, routinely used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, can cause driving effects such as overactive reflexes, confusion, aggression, and panic.

Over-the-Counter Doesn’t Mean Safe on the Road

While there is a general understanding that many prescription drugs can impair a driver’s ability to operate their vehicle, many drivers fail to realize the risks associated with driving after taking over-the-counter medicines.

As explained by the Women’s Health Research Institute, the popular sleeping pill Ambien, for example, can cause impaired driving in women the morning after taking it. This discovery led to the FDA halving the recommended dosage for women.

Many over-the-counter medications impair drivers of either gender. Some of the most everyday types of OTC medicines associated with impaired driving include antihistamines used to treat cold and allergy symptoms, antidiarrheals such as Imodium, and antiemetics used to treat motion sickness, as all of these types of medicines are known to cause significant drowsiness for some users.

Drivers must read the labels of all drugs they take to understand the potential risks associated with their use before getting behind the wheel.

Combining Drugs Compounds the Risks

The NHTSA notes that the risks of impaired driving after using illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs grow when the driver uses more than one type of drug at a time, as it can amplify the impairing effects of each type.

Young Drivers and Drug Use: Compounding the Risks

Young drivers face many hazards behind the wheel that are related simply to their lack of experience and where they are in their physical development. For example, the lack of night-driving experience and the developmental need for more sleep than adults require places teens at a higher risk of accidents during hours of darkness.

The impact of peer pressure and distractions on an inexperienced driver leads to a significantly higher incidence of accidents involving teen passengers with one or more friends in the vehicle.

More than a third of high school students admitted to using marijuana, according to CDC statistics, and young drivers use a host of other substances that are accessible to students, including alcohol. Many states have reduced impairment limits for teen drivers, meaning they can be considered too impaired to drive after consuming fewer drinks than adult drivers.

The Difficulties in Proving Drug Impairment as a Cause of an Accident

When a police officer stops a driver for suspicion of drunk driving, they can have the driver perform several field sobriety tests to develop a basis for administering a blood or breath alcohol test on the driver. If an adult driver tests at .08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood or higher, according to most state laws, they are alcohol-impaired.

Unfortunately, there is no test to accurately determine a driver’s level of impairment after consuming other types of impairing substances. Marijuana use, for example, will appear in the blood and urine for days or even weeks after the person has ingested it, long after the impairing effects of the drug have worn off.

In most states, if a law enforcement officer has reason to believe that a substance impairs the driver and the driver admits to using an illegal, prescription, or OTC drug before getting behind the wheel, their admission is all they need to charge the driver with impaired driving.

They can rely on the signs of impairment that the driver exhibited during the field sobriety test or—if the driver has caused an accident—the statements of eyewitnesses who can speak about the driver’s carelessness or recklessness at the time that the accident occurred in combination with the presence of a certain type of drug in the driver’s system when they go through a drug test after the accident.

What Can I Do if a Drug-Impaired Driver Injures Me?

Augusta Car Accident Attorney

Whether it was an over-the-counter cold medicine that caused the impairment, a prescribed opioid, or even marijuana in a state where it is legal to consume cannabis for recreational purposes, driving while impaired is illegal in every state.

When someone who is drug-impaired causes an accident that results in injuries to other users of the roadway, those who have sustained injuries are eligible to seek compensation from the at-fault driver’s auto liability insurance policy for the expenses and impacts they incurred as a result of an accident through the personal injury claims process.

The personal injury claims process involves filing a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance policy.

When the insurer receives the claim, a claims adjuster will be assigned to evaluate the claim to determine:

  • If the victim has filed a claim against a policy that provides coverage for the type of compensation requested.
  • If the insured was liable for causing the accident.
  • How much compensation is the claimant entitled to due to the insured’s liability.

Once the adjuster has had the opportunity to review the claim, they must respond within a reasonable amount of time. They can accept their insured’s liability and pay the claim as submitted. They can also choose to deny the claim but must provide the claimant and their attorney with a written notification of the denial and the reason for the claim’s denial. Most claims are resolved through the settlement process, however.

This process involves the adjuster offering to settle the claim out-of-court in exchange for the claimant agreeing to dismiss their legal claim against the drug-impaired driver and their insurer. Initial settlement offers on this type of claim are typically far below the claim’s established value, and the claimant’s attorney is responsible for negotiating with the adjuster to get them to increase the insurance company’s settlement offer.

If the insurer fails to compensate the claim fairly, it can be filed as a legal complaint (also known as a lawsuit) in civil court within the personal injury statute of limitations in the state where the accident occurred.

The case can still be resolved by settlement after the victim files a lawsuit. However, if no settlement is forthcoming, a judge or jury will hear the case during a trial and decide on matters of liability and compensation based on the preponderance of the evidence.

The preponderance of evidence standard means the claimant and their attorney simply have to show that it is more likely than not that the accident occurred as the claimant said it did.

An Attorney Has a Crucial Role in Drug-Impaired Driving Cases

Drug-impaired driving is a common cause of accidents, and the number of accidents caused by drug-impaired driving appears to increase as more states lift prohibitions on the sale and use of marijuana. If you’ve been injured due to a drug-impaired driver, an experienced car accident lawyer has a crucial role in helping you obtain the compensation you need.

Some of the services your attorney can provide include:

  • Assisting you in gathering all available evidence that shows that another driver’s drug impairment led to the accident that caused your injury.
  • Negotiating with the drug-impaired driver’s insurance provider to garner a fair settlement of your claim.
  • Navigating a complex and formal legal process to protect your right to compensation.
  • Properly valuing your claim to include compensation for all financial and psychological impacts you incurred.

Learn more about your legal options by having a free case evaluation with an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible.

Contact a Car Accident Attorney Today

Jacque D. Hawk - car accidents attorney in Augusta, GA area
Jacque D. Hawk, Car Accident Lawyer in Augusta 

You have a limited time to pursue compensation for your car accident injuries a drug-impaired driver caused. No don’t have time to waste, and you need to contact an experienced car accident attorney immediately. The sooner you start the process, the sooner you can get the compensation you need. Contact an Augusta car accident lawyer at The Hawk Firm today.