The dangers of drunk driving are known and understood by most, but what about drugged driving? Many wrongly assume that drugs like cannabis do not have a significant effect on driving ability. Much like alcohol, however, drugs often impair the user’s reaction times, depth perception and coordination. As a driver, knowing what drugged driving is, and the risks associated with it are necessary for the safety of yourself and others on the road.

What Is Drugged Driving?

Every state defines drugged driving differently. In general, state laws define driving while impaired by one of over four hundred drugs tracked by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as drugged driving. The most often used drug in accidents is cannabis. The widespread legalization of recreational cannabis has lead to many incidents. Besides cannabis, driving under the influence of prescription drugs also causes many accidents. Their use is growing with the overprescribing of drugs in America. These drugs only account for less than have of the incidents documented. It’s clear that there is a large variety of dangers including narcotics, stimulants, depressants, and vapors.

Part of the problem of studying how risky some drugs are for drivers is that it’s tough to point to a key factor. Many of the autopsies of road incidents tested positive for alcohol and one or more drugs. Further, the states vary widely in which tests they use, and how often they conduct tests for road incidents. With the efforts to reduce drunk driving, and the legalization of cannabis, however, it’s safe to assume that drugged driving could become a more serious issue.

How Do Police Test for Drug Use?

There is no uniform test for drug use amongst the states. Part of the problem is that there is no roadside test for drug use yet that has proven to be as accurate as a breathalyzer for alcohol. Blood tests can only measure if the suspect used drugs in the past couple weeks. Also, there is no clear evidence on how high blood-levels need to be to affect driving ability. Everyone reacts to THC differently, so it’s tough to set a standard limit. This differs from alcohol, which has a clear link between blood alcohol content and accident risk. More recently, police are using swab tests of a driver’s saliva, but their success is not perfect. Neither swab tests nor blood tests can determine if a driver is currently under the influence of drugs.

Many police forces are training Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) to detect the use of substances. There are now over 100 DREs in Massachusetts, but not nearly enough for every police force across the state. The usual test run by an expert is twelve steps focusing on the suspect’s blood pressure, pupil size, pulse, and coordination. Even with an increased focus on training, the reality is that many officers still do not know what to look for. Often, the effects of drug use wear off by the time a DRE can conduct a test on the suspect.

Is It Illegal?

Drugged driving is illegal in every state, even in the growing number of states that allow cannabis. Due to a lack of research on blood-levels that suggest impairment, many states have a zero-tolerance policy. This policy means it’s illegal to drive with even small amounts of drugs in your body. If officers see any likely signs of drug use, they will detain you and conduct proper tests at the station.

In Massachusetts, the prosecutor decides whether to convict a suspect for a drugged driving incident on a case-by-case basis. Often, the prosecutor will rely on a DRE for evidence, meaning the decision is very subjective. There is no blood-level limit or zero-tolerance policy in the commonwealth. If a police officer suspects you are under the influence of drugs, they may convict you – even if you are not driving erratically. Cops can charge you without you knowing you are driving impaired. If charged, you are subject to the penalties of a driving under the influence (DUI) offense. These penalties can include fines, suspension of your license and even jail time. A DUI is not something you want to take lightly.

Stay Safe and Jail Free

In the end, driving while impaired, whether by alcohol or drugs, is always a risk. The country still focuses on drunk driving, while drugged driving continues to grow. Further, the lack of consistent laws for drugged driving across the country is the exact reason why you should seek out the advice of an expert if you are ever involved in a drug-related driving case. You will want an attorney with drugged driving experience on your side in cases where a DRE and a prosecutor decide your fate. There are severe penalties for a DUI, and you do not want to take any chances.