Drug-Impaired Driving a Problem on New York Roads
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Drug-Impaired Driving a Problem on New York Roads

car accident ambulanceIn New York, there is an implied consent rule for testing drivers who appear to be impaired by drugs or alcohol. Yet, compared to drunk driving, it’s more challenging for traffic law enforcement officials to detect drug impairment, and also more difficult to prosecute such cases.

A recent report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) investigates the critical issue of drug-impaired driving across the nation, and what states are doing to tackle the problem. An estimated 20 percent of adults aged 18-25 and roughly 6 percent of those aged 26 and older use illegal drugs or marijuana every month. In 2013, some 40 percent of fatally-injured drivers tested positive for marijuana or illegal drugs, roughly the same percentage as those who tested positive for high blood alcohol levels.

Even more alarming, more than 22 percent of all drivers in a recent GHSA survey tested positive for some type of medication or drug.  But since impairment of driving skills varies by the type of drug taken, and data on related crash risk is scarce, DUID accidents and related fatalities present a more complex scenario compared to drunk driving.

Comparing drugs with alcohol

Alcohol is not difficult to test for and is the same regardless of the type of drink imbibed. Drugs and metabolites, on the other hand, are more varied (430 types registered in the national highway safety database) and yield different levels of impairment depending on the concentration and the frequency of use. Furthermore, every person will absorb, process, and eliminate drugs at a different rate, making their effect that much more challenging to gauge and test for.

The GHSA report also highlights lax societal attitudes toward drugged driving, which is not generally perceived as a high risk endeavor compared to driving while under the influence of alcohol. In fact, many people are under the perception that drug use – whether a prescription medication or marijuana – poses no risk of driving impairment and that the chances of getting caught are minimal, given that outward physical signs are not as obvious as those of alcohol use.

State laws regarding DUID

There are three main categories of state laws regarding driving under the influence of drugs.

  • DUID laws, enforced in all states including New York, make it unlawful to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by any drug. However, the only way to enforce this is to observe impaired behavior, suggesting evidence of drug use
  • Zero Tolerance laws (only 12 states) stipulate that it is illegal to drive with any amount of drugs in the system. Some have zero tolerance for THC only, while others ban THC and metabolites
  • Per se laws (6 states) make it illegal to drive with drug amounts exceeding the per se limit. 

Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Utah have zero tolerance laws which make it easier to prosecute offenders – but even this legislation has its limitations, according to the report. Zero tolerance may prove difficult to justify for “legal drugs” given that small concentrations may not impair one’s cognitive ability to drive safely.

Drugged driving is impaired driving in NY

New York is one of the first states to use a new DUID data collection system that allows the state’s 125 drug recognition experts (DREs) to log information from evaluations directly onto a tablet. This data is then instantly transferred into a central data platform that is accessible and trackable statewide. The system has been such a success that other states are looking to replicate it. While this measure is an important advance, the GHSA calls for additional research on state drug laws and their effects, enhanced drug reporting in FARS and better training and testing kits for law enforcement officials who are tasked with detecting drugged drivers on the roads.

The Sanders Firm represents personal injury victims throughout the greater New York City area, including individuals who have been harmed by drugged and drunk drivers. To learn more about your options for legal recourse following an injury or death, call 1-800-FAIR-PLAY to set up a free consultation with skilled New York car accident lawyers.


  1. GHSA, Drug-Impaired Driving: A Guide for What States Can Do http://www.ghsa.org/html/publications/2015drugged.html

  2. GHSA, Report on Drug-Impaired Driving http://www.ghsa.org/html/files/pubs/GHSA_DruggedDrivingt2015_R5_LoRes.pdf

  3. Safe NY, The New York State Drug Evaluation Classification (DEC) Program http://safeny.ny.gov/DRE/