“This is a big, complicated problem that the driving public needs to recognize is serious. People haven’t understood how it affects driving. It didn’t enter their minds that some of these strong drugs, the sleep aids, antidepressants, stimulants, all can be impairing.”
~Chris Cochran, Assistant Director of the California State Office of Traffic Safety
Just as they are in the rest of California, drugged driving cases are on the rise in San Diego. Drug rehab programs are fuller than ever of participants who are there as part of a Court-imposed sentence, because state legislators and prosecutors have taken notice and have cracked down.
Focusing on the Problem of Drugged Driving in California
Historically, drugged driving cases in California have been difficult to prosecute. For example, most drivers who weren’t “at fault” or who survive a wreck aren’t even tested. Tests during stops can’t detect all of the possible drugs of impairment.
In January 2014, that began to change, as California state law was changed to codify drug-related DUI offenses. Locally, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office received $236,000 grants from the Office of Traffic Safety in 2014 and 2015, specifically earmarked to provide the city with a special investigator and prosecutor for drugged driving cases.
Law enforcement officers are now trained to identify signs of drug impairment, how to preserve evidence of drug use, and some, Credentialed Drug Recognition Experts, will receive extra instruction that will allow them to identify the specific drug they suspect.
There are now about 1700 DREs in the state of California.
Drugged Driving in California By the Numbers
The vast majority of drug-related DUI cases in San Diego– an estimated 65% – involve prescription drugs. Deputy City Attorney Taylor Garrot says, “Those cases are different than your normal DUI because there’s almost an unlimited amount of prescription drugs. There’s an unlimited amount of combinations for prescription drugs and they all interact differently depending on the individual and depending on what you’re mixing it with.”
- In 2012, a study performed by the California Office of Traffic Safety determined that 14% of night-time drivers in the state had drugs in their system.
- This is TWICE the percentage of drivers who had used alcohol.
- In 2014, 1 in 7 California drivers involved in fatal wrecks tested positive for possibly-impairing drugs other than alcohol.
- In 2013 and 2014, more than one-third of all California drivers who died and were subsequently tested had drugs in their system.
- In 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that 22% of drivers tested had detectable levels of drugs in their system, regardless of whether it was day or night.
- By comparison, only 8% tested positive for any alcohol or weekend nights, and just 1% in the daytime during the week.
- Between 1994 and 2014, the number of California drivers involved in fatal crashes related to cannabinoids rose from 62 to 292.
- In 2014, about 5% of state drivers who were in fatal crashes tested positive for stimulants, 2% for opiates, and 2% for depressants.
- 1 in 4 tested positive for more than one drug.
- Almost one-third were positive for both alcohol and at least one drug.
State Senator Bob Huff says, “Drugged driving is quickly becoming a serious public health and safety problem that is under-reported, under-enforced, and under-recognized…yet highway safety hazards and fatalities are increasing with widespread prescription and illicit drug use across all demographics.”
At its core, drugged driving in California is often indicative of a larger problem– the behavioral impairment that accompanies a substance abuse disorder. A person with an active addiction exercises poor judgment and engages in risky behavior without regard for the consequences.
If you or someone you care about has a drug problem that is negatively affecting your life, contact Lasting Recovery, where for the past 12 years, San Diego residents and their families have come to recover. Through a multi-layered strategy involving individualized assessment, education, personal counseling, group therapy, family support, and nontraditional options, Lasting Recovery can help restore balance and control to your life.
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