Alcohol is not the only substance that leads to impaired driving. Prescription drugs, marijuana, and other intoxicants are equally dangerous. As Orange County wrongful death attorneys, we have personally witnessed the devastation caused by crashes like the one in Huntington Beach. We believe greater awareness of the issue is needed. This begins with a recognition that high driving and drunk driving are related, but distinct, public safety problems.
Drinking and Driving – The Proven Killer
Drunk driving has always garnered more attention than other forms of intoxicated driving. The first DUI laws were enacted a century ago (around the same time automobiles became popular) and the issue has been in the public spotlight ever since. Thanks to the efforts of government agencies, research institutions, and community activists like California native Candy Lightner, a large amount of data is now available. Here is some of what we know:
- Ethanol is the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages. When consumed, it interferes with neurotransmitters in the brain, affecting an individual’s judgment, reaction-time, and muscle coordination.
- Drinking alcohol faster than the liver can metabolize it causes it to accumulate in the blood stream. Blood alcohol content (BAC) measures this accumulation by weight and expresses it as a percentage.
- For drivers over age 21, the legal limit in California is a BAC of .08%. For commercial drivers, the limit is .04%. For drivers under the drinking age, the limit is .01% (zero tolerance).
- There were 1,325 alcohol-related fatalities in our state in 2015. Records show a disturbing trend. The number of fatalities has increased each year since 2011, after steadily decreasing for a six-year period leading up to 2011.
Marijuana Intoxication and “The New DUI”
The problem of driving while high has never been at the forefront of traffic safety improvement efforts – until recently, that is. People are waking up to the fact that drugged driving claims lives, too. Illicit drugs (like cocaine and methamphetamine), prescription medicine, and even over-the-counter products can significantly inhibit driving ability. Moreover, with the passage of Proposition 64 last November, the policy conversation in California is becoming increasingly focused on marijuana intoxication and the dangers of driving while stoned.
“Did you know that smoking a joint can get you a DUI?”
–DUI Doesn’t Just Mean Booze video, California Office of Traffic Safety, published December 5, 2016
Marijuana-related research may have gotten off to a late start, but meaningful information is becoming available. We know that THC is the active ingredient in the plant. Like Ethanol, THC can affect parts of the brain that control attentiveness and motor skills.
Differences exist between the two forms of intoxication, however, particularly when it comes to driving ability. The primary difference has to do with awareness of impairment. Unlike drunk drivers, marijuana-impaired drivers are more likely to realize they are intoxicated. They often try to compensate by driving slowly or by increasing the distance between their vehicle and surrounding vehicles and objects. Unfortunately, overly cautious driving of this sort can itself be dangerous in high traffic environments.
Do Not Let an Intoxicated Driver Escape Justice
If you are struck by a vehicle driven by someone who you think may be drunk or high (or both), tell police at the scene about your suspicions immediately. Intoxicated drivers may try to flee, hide evidence, or even switch seats with a sober passenger to avoid getting caught. Victims in the Southern California area can also contact our law firm for advice on how to protect their rights following an accident with an intoxicated driver.