A news investigation team for ABC News did some digging. In order to better understand the landscape of drugged driving in Florida, they found that the rate of car crashes caused by drugged drivers has increased by 47 percent in the last few years.
They also discovered that the Tampa Bay area has the dubious distinction of having had the highest rate of confirmed drugged driving accidents in the state since 2014. During that time, the rate of drugged driving crashes increased 32 percent, adding up to 465 accidents. Compared to Orlando and Miami, which reported 232 and 161 drugged accidents respectively, it is a significantly high number.
The report also found that, contrary to popular belief, a large percentage of drugged driving accidents happen during the day. Though it is more likely to come across a drugged or drunk driver on weekend nights, 42 percent of drug-related car accidents happened during daylight in the Tampa area.
A Growing Problem on Florida Roads
According to footage obtained from police car dash cameras, many of the people who are pulled over for drugged driving do not feel that they are doing anything wrong. If they are taking medication that makes them groggy, including methadone to manage opiate addiction or other drugs prescribed by doctor to treat pain or illness, they often don’t believe that it is wrong to drive. Some say they are tired; others say they realize they were swerving but that it’s not related to drug use.
Some drivers fully admit to smoking marijuana or taking other substances before driving. One driver is reported as saying to an officer as he was being arrested for drugged driving: “I usually smoke about $20 of weed a day. You want me mellow not crazy, when I’m crazy I go to jail.”
Still other drivers were clearly under the influence of a hallucinogens and other mind-altering drugs, exhibiting erratic, suicidal, or otherwise aggressive behaviors.
According to Sgt. Steve Gaskins of the Florida Highway Patrol, drugged drivers are normal on Florida roads: “Unfortunately, as we have more drivers enter Florida roadways, we are seeing more motorists that are having drugged impaired problems.”
Can It Be Legally Addressed?
The report from ABC News found that many of those who are arrested for drugged driving are not prosecuted, and many easily get their licenses back. The problem lies in providing proof to the court that the driver is under the influence. There is not currently a portable testing option for highway patrol officers to test for most drugs on the spot. Even the stationary machines sometimes employed at checkpoints can only identify substances in the system and not the amount.
Additionally, there are no laws in Florida or anywhere in the US that provide standards and guidelines for how much is “too much” in terms of drug levels in the system. In fact, it is a lack of evidence that often makes it clear to officers that the driver is under the influence. That is, if there is no smell of alcohol or marijuana or any substances in the car, but the person cannot walk straight, hold a coherent conversation, has glassy or red eyes, then the officer can infer that the person is impaired by a drug, illegal or legal – but there is no evidence to present in court to convict.
Even when it can be proven that the driver was under the influence of drugs while operating a vehicle, there are no mandatory minimums for first-time offenders. In some cases, officers may even opt to check a box that will allow the driver to use the DUI ticket itself as a driving permit for 10 days until they have had a chance to go to court and determine whether or not the charge is valid. This is done to protect those who are charged with DUI wrongly, to ensure that they can still drive their cars to work and take care of their children, but for those who have an ongoing problem with drugs that causes them to frequently drive while impaired, it is a license to continue to drive while under the influence and put the lives of others on the road at risk.
Is Your Loved One at Risk?
If your family member is driving while impaired, everyone is at risk. Make the call today to learn more about treatment options and support that can help them stop using substances before it’s too late.