When you live in Encinitas or in a nearby part of North County, you likely know about the risks of alcohol-impaired driving. We often hear about DUI laws in California and the serious consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlights how an average of 28 people sustain fatal injuries in car accidents each day caused by drunk drivers (or, to put that number another way, one person dies every 51 minutes because a driver decided to drink and drive).
What about drugged driving? How does smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana affect a person’s ability to drive safely? How often do prescription drugs or illegal substances play a role in serious and fatal car accidents in Encinitas? According to a recent report from the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS), the FDA’s newly finalized study provides guidance on drugged driving.
Drugged Driving Laws in California
Before we discuss the FDA’s guidance on drugged driving, it is important to understand how California law deals with impaired driving, from drunk driving to drugged driving. Under California Vehicle Code Section 23152, in addition to making it illegal for a person to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or higher, the law also clarifies that it is “unlawful for a person who is addicted to the use of any drug to drive a vehicle.” In addition, the law makes it unlawful “for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle” and “for a person who is under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug to drive a vehicle.”
The law clearly lays out how a person’s BAC can be a firm indicator of unlawful driving while impaired by alcohol. However, the statute is not quite as clear when it comes to determining whether a person is under the influence of a drug, particularly in situations in which a person might indeed be impaired by drug use, but the drug might be a legally prescribed one or an otherwise legal substance.
FDA Guidance on Drugged Driving
While the use of illegal substances can result in drugged driving, the FDA guidance is concerned primarily with impaired driving caused by lawful drugs. How does the FDA recommend determining whether drugged driving has occurred? The FDA recommends focusing on “five broad functional domains important to driving ability” when considering a person’s level of impairment, including the following:
- Driver’s level of alertness, arousal, and wakefulness;
- Driver’s attention and processing speed;
- Reaction time and psychomotor functions of the driver;
- Driver’s sensory-perceptual functioning; and
- Driver’s executive functions.
These factors are primarily designed to determine impairment for psychoactive drugs. The FDA recognizes that drugmakers and law enforcement officials will also need to consider factors that could determine impairment when a person as taken non-psychoactive drugs. In the end, it is important to consider the specific effects of drugs, and to take them on a case-by-case basis in assessing how they might affect a driver’s level of impairment.
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(image courtesy of Kalu Ci)