In addition to drunk driving, drugged driving is also a threat to public safety. The Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that in 2009, 3,952 drivers that were fatally injured in auto accidents in the U.S. tested positive for drugs. This represents 18% of all drivers killed that year in car crashes. While this number is not as high alcohol impairment deaths, only 63% of drivers were tested for the presence of drugs that year.
Though drugged driving is dangerous and a growing concern in the country, the majority of DWI arrests are alcohol-related. The reason for this may be twofold. The first is simply that alcohol intoxication is more common. The second reason lies in the increased difficulty in detecting and proving drug impairment. It can be more difficult for law enforcement to evaluate drivers for drug intoxication. Most law enforcement agents are well-versed in how to detect alcohol impairment. This includes performing field sobriety tests, looking for physical signs like slurred speech and scent of alcohol on the breath and performing breathalyzer tests. Drug impairment, on the other hand, is often not as obvious and can be more difficult for this The State to prove in court.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a report to Congress entitled Drug-Impaired Driving: Understanding the Problem and Ways to Reduce It. In this report, researchers talk about the difficulties of detecting drug impaired drivers as well as the methodologies used currently. Though the side effects of drugs can severely impair a driver's ability to operate a vehicle, a lot is still not known about drugged driving. The report lists some of the biggest problems law enforcement have in measuring drug intoxication:
- There are many different drugs that can have different side effects and would require separate standards to be determined
- The effects on behavior or ability to operate the vehicle may not be properly reflected in blood or plasma levels of the body
- Some people are more tolerant or sensitive to side effects of certain drugs
- Some people metabolize and absorb drugs at different rates making it hard to determine at what level impairment occurs
- Drugs can accumulate in a person's system making it difficult to predict exactly when they were consumed
The report strongly suggest that more in-depth research be done on how exactly certain drugs affect an individual's ability to operate a vehicle and at what levels. It also talks about the DWI process and how most police officers go about performing DWI evaluations. Since the majority of DWI cases involve alcohol and alcohol testing is easier, a suspect will usually only be evaluated for drug impairment if the officers and suspects they are impaired and they do not have a BAC that shows alcohol is in their system. There are two methods used to evaluate drug intoxication, they are as follows:
- Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (DEC): In jurisdictions that participate in this program, an officer who suspects a driver is under the influence of drugs can request that they be evaluated by a Drug Recognition Expert or DRE. A DRE is an officer specially trained to a evaluate drug DWI suspects in order to determine whether symptoms are the result of drug use or some other type of neurological condition, illness or disease. 46 states including New Hampshire participate in this program, however there are only about 6,000 trained DREs nationwide.
Sobriety Testing: The DRE or arresting officer will also perform a laboratory test to determine whether there are drugs present in the suspect's system. The NHTSA reports that there are currently no national standards for conducting these toxicology tests. However, New Hampshire has its own set of laws pertaining to this listed in Chapter 265-A of the Motor Vehicle code. Unlike alcohol, a breath test will not detect drug use. Instead, a blood or urine test will likely be requested and the results will take some time to be returned.
This report suggests that measures are being taken to develop a standardized system to measure and prosecute drugged driving cases. The NHTSA encourages states to adopt per se drug DWI laws in order to make them easier to prosecute. However, for the reasons listed in this report, this can be difficult. While many of the factors discussed here can lead to headaches for lawmakers, they can be good news to those charged with drugged driving in New Hampshire. Everything that makes drug detection difficult can be used as a defense in a DWI case. For more information on drug DWI defense options, contact a lawyer right away.