The recent DUI arrest of golf great Tiger Woods has brought an increasingly significant danger on our roads to the forefront of American discourse — people driving after taking legal, prescription medicine.
Woods was arrested last month near his Florida home on suspicion of DUI after being discovered asleep in his vehicle. His breathalyzer results showed no signs of alcohol in his system. However, he acknowledged in a statement that he had “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.”
Woods isn’t alone. In fact, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Safety and the Governors Highway Safety Association, legal and illegal drugs are now responsible for more fatal accidents than alcohol — 43 percent compared to 37 percent.
While the most common drug in the system of drivers is marijuana, drivers are increasingly more likely to have taken prescription drugs such as antidepressants, painkillers (such as opioids), sedatives and amphetamines.
The number of people driving under the influence of prescription drugs has increased in recent years. A just-released study found that 20 percent of drivers had used a prescription drug in the past two days — mostly sedatives, antidepressants and painkillers.
But according to several surveys, the most common drug used by drivers is marijuana. However, it’s important to note that evidence of marijuana use can remain in a person’s system long after its influence on a driver’s reflexes has worn off. Further, the risk of being involved in a crash is increased less by marijuana than by opioids and amphetamines.
It hasn’t been confirmed precisely what drugs were in Woods’ system at the time of this most recent crash. However, when he had his 2009 crash that brought to light his extramarital affairs, Woods had reportedly taken both Ambien and Vicodin hours before.
As more and more Americans rely on prescription drugs to help ease pain, help them sleep and alleviate the anxiety of everyday life, the likelihood of being involved in a crash because of their impact on you (or another driver) is greater than ever before.
Drugs are harder to test for than alcohol and drug-impaired driving allegations are harder to prove. Nonetheless, a DUI, regardless of the substance(s) involved, needs to be taken seriously and sound legal advice is essential.