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Drug-impaired driving on the rise leading to fatal accidents

Residents of North Carolina may be surprised to hear that drug-impaired driving is escalating across the United States. According to a report issued this year by the Governors Highway Safety Administration, in 2015 drugs were present in 43 percent of drivers killed in a fatal car accident with known test results. Drugs, in fact, appeared more frequently in crash victims than alcohol.

Drug-impaired driving is a complex problem. Some drugs that impair driving are illegal, some are legal depending on the use and some are even available over-the-counter. Their effects may vary upon drivers.

Detection of the presence of drugs in roadside tests for impaired driving is more difficult than testing for alcohol. There are also more obstacles for prosecuting and convicting a motorist for driving under the influence of drugs than drunk driving. Laws differ among the states

Marijuana was the most common drug used according to roadside surveys and statistics obtained after testing of drivers killed in accidents. Legalization of recreational marijuana in several states also had an impact and its use most likely grew after states permitted this use.

In experiments, marijuana was shown to impair skills associated with driving such as vigilance, perception of time and distance, lane tracking, motor coordination, divided attention tasks and reaction time. Drivers usually compensate for these impairments by driving slower and increasing following distance.

A 2014 roadside survey of drivers in Washington during nighttime hours showed that nearly 44 percent of drivers admitted that they used marijuana within two hours. In Colorado, crash fatalities associated with marijuana use increased by 48 percent in 2013 to 2015 after marijuana was legalized.

Impaired driving was not limited to marijuana use, however. Other drugs that impair drivers include illegal drugs such as narcotics, stimulants, sedatives and hallucinogens. Drugs also included legal, non-medicinal drugs, prescription medications, and over-the-counter drugs that are freely used without a prescription. Significantly, drivers were shown to have combined two or more substances that multiplies the impact of impaired driving.

Families of a victim of a fatal accident may be entitled to damages in a wrongful death action. They should seek prompt legal representation to assure that they can pursue fair and just compensation for the loss of a loved one.

Source: Governors Highway Safety Association, "Drug impaired driving-A guide for states," Accessed April 28, 2017

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John McCabe wrote "The Investigation and Analysis of Personal Injury Cases" in the best-selling book Personal Injury Practice in North Carolina. This is the book that other lawyers follow in handling personal injury cases.

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