Drugged driving is a problem that is receiving more and more national attention each year. Though most states' DWI laws include drug impairment as well as alcohol, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) believes that there is a lot less public awareness. A National Survey on Drug Use and Health performed in 2007 found that more than 10 million or about 5% of licensed drivers in the US drove under the influence of an illicit substance at some point during the previous year.
In 2009, the NHTSA performed a study that looked at Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) statutes across the United States. In their report, A State-by-State Analysis of Laws Dealing with Driving Under the Influence of Drugs, they found that:
There are three principal types of drugged-driving laws:
1) Statutes that require drugs to render a driver “incapable” of driving safely;
2) Statutes requiring that the drug impair the driver's ability to operate safely or require a driver to be “under the influence or affected by an intoxicating drug”; and
3) “Per se” statutes that make it a criminal offense to have a drug or metabolite in one's body/body fluids while operating a motor vehicle (often referred to as “zero tolerance” laws)
In a 2013 study, the NHTSA reveals that a considerably less amount of research has been performed on drugged driving compared to drunk driving. It reports the results of a study done in 2008 where fluid samples were randomly collected from nighttime drivers. Researchers found that of the samples 11.3% of drivers tested positive for an illegal drug, 3.9% tested positive for a prescription or over the counter medication and 1.1% tested positive for both types of drugs. Marijuana that was most commonly detected illegal drug.
Though researchers believe that driving under the influence of drugs is a common occurrence, lawmakers put less emphasis on drugged driving laws and offenders are less frequently charged when compared to alcohol intoxicated drivers. In analysis of all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, the NHTSA found that, as of 2008, most states have enacted some form of DUID statutes as well as set up Drug Recognition and Classification (DEC) programs and training Drug Recognition Experts (DRE). These are ways for law enforcement including state and local police to better identify when a suspect is under the influence of a drug.
Any type of drug, even drugs legally prescribed by a doctor, that causes intoxication can be the subject of a drugged DWI charge. Under New Hampshire law, RSA 265-A: 2, a person can be charged with DWI if they drive or attempt to operate a vehicle while under the influence of “any controlled drug, prescription drug, over-the-counter drug, or any other chemical substance, natural or synthetic, which impairs a person's ability to drive.”
The analysis found that all but 2 states use the phrase "under the influence" for their drug DWI laws. Several states go even further with the definition. For example, 14 states set the standard that the driver must be “incapacitated” of their ability to operate a vehicle. 8 other states define “under the influence” as the suspect having their ability to drive impaired. 17 states have per se drug intoxication laws which mean that a limit is set as to how much of a drug can be present in the driver's system. Additionally, in most states, the use of a prescription drug, even if it is medically necessary, can lead to a drug DUI charge. In 20 states, the law specifically states that legal therapeutic drugs can lead to a DUI charge if they cause impairment. All states, including New Hampshire, with the exception of 5 have implied consent laws that also apply to drug intoxication.
This study suggests that New Hampshire's laws regarding drug DWI laws are on par with other states. The researchers believe that a more coherent approach should be taken throughout the country in recognizing and enforcing drugged driving. Though no per se drug DWI laws are in place in the NH, the state does have one of the longest periods of potential license suspension in the country with a maximum for a first offense being two years. It also allows for administrative license suspension prior to conviction if certain factors apply. A drug DWI offense is a serious charge and can lead to long-term negative consequences. If you have been arrested for drugged driving in New Hampshire, contact a defense attorney right away.