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Drugged Driving and DUI

Drugged Driving and DUI

Driving under the influence is just as dangerous as drunk driving.

Drugged Driving and DUI

Drunk driving gets a lot of attention, and deservedly so. In a given year, approximately one-quarter to one-third of Texas roadway fatalities are caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol.

Drugged driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, but from a legal standpoint, drug-impaired driving is more complicated than alcohol-impaired driving. Driving under the influence (DUI) is a crime in Texas, regardless of whether the driver has been using alcohol or drugs. This includes not only illegal drugs like marijuana and cocaine, but also over-the-counter substances and prescription medications.

Drugged drivers aren’t always as easy to recognize as drunk drivers, however, and unlike alcohol, there are no legally established limits for what constitutes drug intoxication. While there’s no question that drug use makes driving more dangerous, proving drugged driving isn’t always as straightforward. If you were injured by a driver who may have been under the influence of drugs, hiring the right law firm can make all the difference in your case.

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Drunk Driving vs. Drugged Driving

Slurred speech. Loss of coordination. Slow responses. Drooping eyelids. The signs of alcohol intoxication are fairly easy to spot.

It doesn’t matter whether somebody has been drinking beer, wine, or hard alcohol. Alcohol is alcohol, and the legal limit is the legal limit. When an officer suspects that a driver has been drinking, they can administer a breathalyzer test. If the driver blows .08 or above, they are driving while intoxicated. Case closed.

Drugged driving is more complex. For starters, there are hundreds of different drugs available, some legal and some illegal. These different drugs have different effects on the body and mind. The impacts of drugs on driving depend on the substance consumed and other factors. For example:

  • Marijuana slows reaction time and impairs a driver’s judgment of time and distance.
  • Methamphetamine and cocaine can lead to aggressive and reckless driving.
  • Opioids cause drowsiness and impaired memory/thinking skills.
  • Sedatives lead to dizziness and drowsiness.
  • Prescription and over-the-counter medicines can impact judgment, induce drowsiness and dizziness, and reduce coordination.

Complicating matters even further, these substances may be used in combination with each other, producing an unpredictable range of driver effects.

Texas DUI law is clear. According to the state penal code, a person commits a DUI offense if they are intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place. We know that, for alcohol, this means a BAC of .08% or higher. But how, exactly, is drug intoxication measured?

Again, it’s complicated. The legal limit that exists for alcohol does not exist for drugs. In addition, it’s not always clear what the relationship is between the level of drugs in a person’s system and their level of intoxication. Thus, even when law enforcement is able to establish through a toxicology report that a driver had drugs in their system, there is no drug intoxication level similar to the .08% BAC that automatically indicates driver impairment. In many cases, though, police do not test for drugs if there is no evidence of alcohol-impaired driving.

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Drugged Driving on the Rise

Long-term efforts to reduce drinking and driving have been successful. Drunk driving fatalities have decreased by more than 25% over the last three decades. Drinking and driving is considered socially unacceptable. Almost nobody questions the notion that it is dangerous to consume alcohol and then get behind the wheel.

Drugged driving, conversely, is on the rise. While there are efforts underway to put drugged driving prevention on an equal footing with drunk driving prevention, education and enforcement are lagging behind public perception of drugged driving dangers, especially as more states legalize marijuana.

Marijuana remains illegal in Texas, but the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center (TMCEC) notes that the recent legalization of hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) have made marijuana more accessible in Texas. Moreover, recreational marijuana is legal in neighboring New Mexico and nearby Colorado. Methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine use are also prevalent in Texas. Texas drug deaths have increased substantially over the last two decades—an indicator of higher drug use.

During the pandemic, Texas drug deaths skyrocketed. Experts blame the mental and physical toll of the pandemic as reasons why more people are turning to drugs to treat conditions like anxiety and depression.

The pandemic also saw a high number of crashes involving drivers who tested positive for drugs. Federal safety statistics show that, in 2020, 56% of drivers in serious injury and fatal crashes tested positive for at least one drug. The most common drug intoxicant was cannabinoids (i.e., marijuana), followed by alcohol, opioids, stimulants, and sedatives.

Like alcohol, marijuana lowers reaction time and impairs judgment. But surveys have found that the public perceives driving after using marijuana to be less dangerous than drunk driving.

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Drugs, Driving, and Injury Cases

Criminal prosecution of drugged driving is handled separately from drugged driving personal injury lawsuits. In a criminal case, the state brings charges against somebody accused of a crime, and penalties can include jail/prison time, fines, and loss of license. In a civil case/personal injury case, a person who harms another person can be ordered to pay monetary damages to the injured person as compensation.

The same person can face criminal charges and civil charges for drugged driving. And findings from the criminal aspect of their case could be used as evidence in an injury case. For example, if the driver underwent a blood test that showed the presence of drugs in their system, this could be used as evidence of intoxication in the civil case. If the driver was injured and taken to the hospital, the hospital may also have obtained a blood sample and detected the presence of drugs.

Because there is no legal threshold for drug intoxication, courts typically rely on expert testimony about toxicology lab results. The burden is on the accident victim to prove driver impairment when drugs are involved. Other evidence that could be used to prove impairment includes police reports, the facts of the accident, impressions of medical personnel and paramedics, eyewitness testimony, and victim testimony.

Remember that a person does not have to be intoxicated from an illegal drug to be found liable for drugged driving. It could be a substance they have a prescription for or bought from a local pharmacy. Also keep in mind that drugs can have interactions with alcohol and other drugs. So even if somebody is under the legal limit of .08, they could have substances in their system that interact with alcohol and produce greater impairment.

If a blood test comes back negative, this doesn’t necessarily mean the driver was not taking drugs. It could just be that the drugs levels were below a certain cutoff level, and so the lab reported a negative test. A lawyer could check with the lab and find out that there were drugs in the driver’s system, but they weren’t reported.

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Experienced Texas Drugged Driving Injury Lawyers

Proving that the driver who injured you was on drugs can be difficult. But for a skilled injury lawyer, it’s by no means impossible. Whether you were in a crash with another passenger vehicle or injured by an 18-wheeler, the legal steps you take early on in your case can dictate its final outcome. The complexities and nuances of Texas drugged driving makes it crucial to hire the right injury attorney.

Don’t just hope for the best. Hire the best and leave nothing to chance. There are many car accident attorneys in Texas, but there’s only one Texas Hammer. Find out why we’re trusted by thousands of Texans: call or contact us for your free consultation.

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