DWI laws apply to operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, drugs or a combination of the two, Driving while impaired by drugs is a serious offense in New Hampshire and a conviction will result in the same penalties as a drunk driver. Though drugged driving is discussed less, lawmakers and political action groups are working to bring more focus to this area of the law. Federal agencies such as the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the Department of Transportation feel that, while drunk driving is seeing reductions every year due to increased awareness, drugged driving is still a threat to public safety and steps need to be taken to identify and discourage this behavior.
Drugged Driving is a Growing Concern
The Office of National Drug Control Policy's report, Drug Testing of Drug-Involved Driving of Fatally Injured Drivers in the United States, states, in 2009, 21,978 drivers were killed in auto accidents in the United States. Of these drivers, 63% were tested for the presence of drugs. Of those tested 33%, or 3,952, tested positive for some type of drug. This number accounts for 18% of all fatally injured automobile drivers that year. This number only represents the number of drivers who died in auto accidents and does not include the number of innocent victims suggesting that more research should be done to measure the full impact of drug impaired drivers.
One setback that researchers found when determining how often drug abuse is a factor in a fatal automobile accidents was the fact that not all drivers were tested. Between 2005 and 2009 the number of drivers involved in fatal accidents tested for the presence of drugs increased by 5%. But, as mentioned above, the total percentage of drivers tested was still only 63% in 2009. Currently, the state of New Hampshire requires all drivers involved in fatal accident to be tested for the presence of drugs. This is not the policy in all states however. Additionally, not all drivers involved in fatal accidents are tested for a number of reasons.
Though driving impairment is a problem and it is well documented that the use of certain drugs can severely impair a driver's ability to operate a vehicle, studies have found that 48% of drivers involved in fatal crashes that tested positive for a drug also tested positive for alcohol meaning that the number of drugged driving driver fatalities may be overrepresented.
How Does New Hampshire Stack Up?
According to the ONDCP, in 2009, 71 drivers in New Hampshire were killed in automobile accidents. Of those, 76% were tested for presence of drugs. Though New Hampshire law requires all drivers involved in a fatal accident to be tested for the presence of drugs, certain factors may have applied in some cases such as samples were not available or the driver was clearly the victim in the accident. Of those tested in the state, about only 13 (about 25%) tested positive for drugs. That same year, the national average for drivers tested was 63% and 33% tested positive. Of the 13 NH drivers, 7 tested positive for cannabinoid such as marijuana, 4 tested positive for a depressant and another 2 for a narcotic.
Reducing Drugged Driving
In order to combat drug related DWI fatalities, the ONDCP is looking to reduce the number of instances of drugged driving in the US by 10% by the year 2015. They state on their website that their strategy for achieving this includes taking the following measures:
- Encouraging states to adopt Per Se drug impairment laws;
- Collecting further data on drugged driving;
- Enhancing prevention of drugged driving by education communities and professionals;
- Providing increased training to law enforcement on identifying drugged drivers; and
- Developing standard screening methodologies for drug-testing labs to use in detecting the presence of drugs.
In addition to increasing awareness and research regarding drugged driving, groups are also looking to help law enforcement make more drug DUI arrests. In some states this may mean tightening DWI laws and adding per se statutes. Currently, New Hampshire does not have a per se drug impairment law. The state DWI law is limited to any person "under the influence" of any type of drug “which impairs a person's ability to drive".
When police are encouraged to make more DWI arrests, they can sometimes become overzealous and make frivolous accusations leading to unwarranted charges. If you find yourself in this position, call a New Hampshire DWI defense attorney right away. At Russman Law, our lawyers can help you fight your charges regardless of the circumstances surrounding the arrest.