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More driving under influence of drugs than alcohol
Percentage of drivers who tested positive for:
• Drugs — 14 percent
• Marijuana — 7.4 percent
• Illegal drugs — 4.6 percent
• Prescription or over-the-counter drugs — 4.6 percent
• Alcohol — 7.3 percent
Source: California Office of Traffic Safety
As driving under the influence of legal and illegal drugs quickly becomes more prevalent than driving under the influence of alcohol in California, authorities are warning residents that a prescription is not a safeguard against arrest.
The California Office of Traffic Safety’s first-ever statewide roadside survey of alcohol and drug use by drivers revealed that approximately twice as many drivers tested positive for drugs that may impair driving than tested positive for alcohol, according to an COTS press release.
Joaquin Zubieta at the California Highway Patrol’s Victorville station said he has seen an increase in driving under the influence of drugs during his time with the agency.
“Drugs are causing more problems than alcohol, especially marijuana,” Zubieta explains.
Rafael Garcia was sentenced to five years in state prison in September for killing CHP officer Justin McGrory while driving intoxicated with marijuana. Garcia hit and killed McGrory, 28, in June 2010 as the officer was conducting a traffic stop on the right shoulder of northbound Interstate 15 south of Hodge Road.
Garcia told investigators he was driving back to Las Vegas from Los Angeles, where he had smoked marijuana. He said he began dozing off but continued driving while setting the cruise control. Authorities confiscated 68 grams of marijuana in his car, which had four other passengers. A test detected marijuana in Garcia’s blood.
During the day, the CHP sees drivers impaired mainly by prescription drugs. Overnight, illegal drugs are more common, according to Zubieta.
Unlike with alcohol, there is no exact measure of what constitutes a legal level of drugs in a driver’s system. Instead, deputies trained as Drug Recognition Experts use a series of field sobriety tests to determine whether or not a driver is impaired.
Many people do not realize that driving under the influence of drugs carries the same consequences as driving under the influence of alcohol, Zubieta says.
“If you are arrested for DUI for drugs, your license will also be suspended just like under alcohol,” Zubieta explains.
Even with a prescription, a driver is considered to be under the influence if the drug impairs his or her ability to drive safely.
“A person can still go to jail for driving under the influence of medical marijuana,” Zubieta says. “Some of the stuff they sell over the counter is not illegal to buy, but it is against the law to consume it and drive.”
Zubieta explains that some people who use prescription drugs become accustomed to the effects and do not realize that they should not be driving.
“I like to think that people don’t do it on purpose, but sometimes it gets away from them,” Zubieta explains.
Beyond the legal consequences, driving under the influence of drugs can have serious, often deadly, consequences.
“When you’re out there driving when you’re sober, it takes all your motor skills to be safe,” Zubieta says, explaining that being under the influence makes being safe much more difficult.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 30 percent of drivers who were killed in motor crashes in 2010 tested positive for legal and or illegal drugs, a percentage that has increased since 2006.
In San Bernardino County last year, alcohol and/or drug use was the primary cause of 16.2 percent of fatal accidents, according to CHP data.
To combat this growing problem, the COTS is increasing funding to officer training, increasing the number of district attorneys dedicated to drug-impaired driving cases, and providing new laboratory drug-testing equipment, according to the press release.
Additionally, a new law will move each of the DUI categories — alcohol, drugs and alcohol plus drugs — into separate sections of the vehicle code, to aid in data collection, according to the press release.
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