It’s common knowledge that drunk driving is a pervasive problem in America. Even though this problem has shrunk over the last few decades, thanks to increased public awareness and patrols, innocent individuals still suffer injuries, some fatal, in drunk driving crashes.
Drug-impaired driving only compounds the problem. The abuse of illicit drugs is on the rise, and many people are driving while taking prescription medications that can impact their ability to operate a vehicle safely. But how big of a problem is drug-impaired driving in America today?
If you or someone you love suffered injuries due to the actions of a drug-impaired driver, how significant the problem is doesn’t really matter only that you felt a negative impact. Drug-impaired driving accidents can cause severe, catastrophic, and even fatal injuries. If you suffered an injury in one, it’s in your best interest to contact an experienced car accident attorney who can fight for your rights to compensation.
How Common Is Drug Impaired Driving?
According to a National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 20.5 million Americans 16 or older got behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol in the previous year. At the same time, 12.6 million did so under the influence of illicit drugs.
The same survey also revealed that males are more likely than females to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A higher percentage of young adults between the ages of 21 to 25 drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol than young adults between the ages of 16 to 20 or adults 26 or older.
Although it’s difficult to determine how many traffic crashes result from drugged driving, estimates show that nearly 44 percent of motorists in fatal car crashes tested positive for one or more drugs. Over half of them tested positive for two or more types of drugs.
Additionally, one study found that one in six college students with access to a vehicle had driven under the influence of a drug other than alcohol at least once in the previous year. Marijuana was the most common drug used, followed by cocaine and prescription painkillers.
Younger adults aren’t the only ones with risk factors for drugged driving. Older adults often experience mental decline, causing them to take prescription medications more or less often than prescribed or in the wrong dosage amounts. Being older can cause drugs to take longer to break down in their system. To make matters worse, both of these factors can cause unintentional drug intoxication while driving.
Drugs Commonly Used While Driving
Following alcohol, marijuana is the drug most frequently detected in the blood of crash-involved drivers. The motor vehicle accident risk associated with marijuana in combination with alcohol, cocaine, or benzodiazepines is greater than the risk of using each drug by itself.
Multiple studies reveal that motorists with marijuana in their blood had double the chances of being liable for a fatal crash or being killed themselves than those who hadn’t used drugs or alcohol before getting behind the wheel. In addition to marijuana, prescription medications are also commonly linked to drugged driving crashes. For example, almost 20 percent of motorists who drove while under the influence of alcohol or drugs tested positive for an opioid of some type.
How Often Does Drug-Impaired Driving Cause Crashes?
For many reasons, it’s difficult to determine how often drug-impaired driving is involved in traffic crashes.
This is because:
- A reliable roadside drug level test doesn’t yet exist something similar to a breathalyzer for alcohol.
- Some drugs can stay in the body for days or weeks after use, making it hard to determine when the driver used the drug and how it impaired the driver’s abilities and performance.
- Law enforcement officers don’t typically test for drugs if drivers have an illegal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level since they already have enough evidence for a DUI charge.
- Many motorists causing crashes have both drugs and alcohol or multiple drugs in their system, making it difficult to determine which substance had the greater effect on their driving.
What if You Suspect the Driver Who Hit You Was Drug Impaired?
If you suspect the driver who hit you was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, be sure to tell the responding law enforcement officer. Be objective and only report what you saw or observed, don’t draw conclusions. Perhaps you noticed drug paraphernalia on their front seat when they got out of their vehicle, or you observed a strong odor. Or maybe they were acting very strange. Bring your observations to the officer’s attention and let them take it from there.
When you meet with a car accident lawyer regarding your injuries and accident, you should also share with them your suspicions and observations. They can take further action to investigate the potential for drug use to have caused or contributed to your accident.
Should You Pursue a Claim if the Driver is Facing Criminal Charges?
Always understand that your injury claim can turn into a civil lawsuit and that civil lawsuits are entirely separate from criminal charges and criminal courts. Drivers under the influence of drugs should face criminal charges, but that doesn’t negate your need or right to pursue an injury claim.
For example, suppose they are found guilty of criminal charges. In that case, they will face the appropriate consequences, such as jail time, fines, probation, community service, and license revocation. While this helps repay their debt to society and can bring them some justice, it doesn’t help them with their damages.
Therefore, you can still file a personal injury claim to seek compensation for your damages. You can still have a successful injury claim even if they are not guilty of their charges. The outcome of a civil lawsuit doesn’t rely on or factor in the outcome of criminal charges and vice versa.
The Deadline for Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit
While you don’t need to worry about the deadlines and timeframes associated with drug-impaired driving criminal charges, you should be aware of your state’s personal injury statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a deadline that gives those injured in a car accident a specific number of years from the date of their injury to file a lawsuit. If they don’t do so within that time frame, they will likely lose their right to do so. While they can still file a lawsuit, the opposing party or their attorneys will petition the judge to throw out your claim. The judge will have no choice but to comply.
Keep in mind that various other factors can shorten or lengthen the statute of limitations that applies in your case, including:
- If the injuries were to a minor child
- If the liable party is a government employee or entity
To ensure your lawsuit starts within the applicable legal deadline, it’s essential to contact a knowledgeable car accident lawyer as soon as possible after your accident
Types of Drug-Impaired Driving Crashes
Drug-impaired driving can lead to several different types of crashes.
Each type has the potential to result in severe and fatal injuries; some are more likely than others to cause them.
- Sideswipe collision: These crashes aren’t usually as dangerous as other accidents but can cause severe property damage. They typically occur when two vehicles travel side by side in the same direction, and one swerves into the lane of the other. This is easy for drug-impaired drivers to do since drugs can affect their spatial awareness, and they may not know where their vehicle is in relation to other vehicles.
- Rear-end crash: Drivers who are under the influence of drugs usually have a delayed response time, making it challenging, difficult, if not impossible, to stop before hitting the back of another vehicle. If a driver is already following too closely, this type of accident is more likely to happen.
- Head-on collision: Drug-impaired motorists are more likely to swerve into the oncoming traffic lane. They usually do this with very little, if any, warning to other motorists, which leads to a possible fatal head-on collision. These are one of the worst types of motor vehicle accidents, often causing catastrophic or life-threatening injuries, such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or spinal cord injuries (SCI).
- Wrong-way crash: A wrong-way collision happens if a motorist turns the wrong way on a one-way street or enters a freeway offramp. Wrong-way crashes on the freeway are frequently fatal to at least one person involved.
- T-bone crash: A T-bone crash happens when a car hits another vehicle on one of its sides. Sometimes referred to as broadside or side-impact accidents, they often occur if one driver doesn’t stop at a stop sign or red light. T-bone accidents are also some of the most injurious and deadly crashes.
All collisions have one thing in common – they often result in severe injuries and change the lives of victims.
Are Drug-Impaired Drivers Negligent?
Most causes of car accidents can be summed up using single word negligence. Negligence is the failure to act the way another reasonably prudent person should in the same or similar situation. Traffic laws can help establish negligence in motor vehicle collisions. For example, a reasonably careful driver should stop at a stop sign or slow down in a construction zone. Not taking these same actions is a display of negligence. Drivers who choose to use drugs and then get behind the wheel are being intentionally negligent.
Your car accident attorney must have the evidence and ability to prove the four elements of negligence for a successful personal injury claim:
- Duty: The at-fault party owed the injured party a duty of care. For example, drivers shouldn’t be drinking or using drugs when they are driving.
- Breach of Duty: The at-fault party violated their duty to the injured party in these cases, they breached their duty by using drugs.
- Cause: The actions or inactions of the at-fault driver resulted in injuries to the other party.
- Damages: The injured party has compensable damages as a result of the accident. Their damages might include pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Get Medical and Legal Help After a Drug Impaired Driving Accident
Getting medical attention should be your first priority after any car accident. Even if you don’t feel any pain or lack symptoms, you can still have a serious injury. For example, internal organ damage and bleeding, back injuries, and head injuries often don’t show symptoms immediately. However, serious, potentially even deadly conditions need the care and expertise of a licensed physician.
In addition, failing to receive medical care as soon as possible after an accident can negatively affect your injury claim. You need strong evidence to link your injuries to your accident. Suppose too much time elapses between the accident and your medical record documenting your injuries. In that case, the insurance company will claim your injuries didn’t result from the car accident. Your medical record is a valuable piece of evidence that can prove your injuries and their extent and also help support a claim for pain and suffering and other non-economic damages.
Once you are medically stable, you should reach out to a seasoned car accident lawyer for legal help. Even if you aren’t sure if you have an injury claim worth pursuing, seek legal advice.
Hire a car accident attorney to review your case and tell you that you don’t have a legal claim than not to pursue one and find out that you left money on the table and walked away by not pursuing your rights. If you don’t pursue a claim, you won’t receive anything for your pain and suffering or other non-economic damages, and you may be on the hook to pay your accident-related medical bills.
You have nothing to lose by meeting with an attorney about your claim. Most car accident attorneys offer free initial consultations and work on contingency fees, so you don’t owe them any money until your case settles.
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