The principal concern regarding driving on drugs (drugged driving) is that driving under the influence of any drug that acts on the brain could impair one’s motor skills, reaction time, and judgment. Drugged driving is a public health concern because it puts not only the driver at risk but also passengers and others who share the road.
However, despite the knowledge about a drug’s potentially lethal effects on driving performance and other concerns that have been acknowledged by some public health officials, policy officials, and constituent groups, drugged driving laws have lagged behind alcohol-related driving legislation, in part because of limitations in the current technology for determining drug levels and resulting impairment. Mixing drug and alcohol is even more dangerous.
For alcohol, detection of its blood concentration (BAC) is relatively simple, and concentrations greater than 0.08 percent have been shown to impair driving performance; thus, 0.08 percent is the legal limit in this country. But for illicit drugs, there is no agreed-upon limit for which impairment has been reliably demonstrated. Furthermore, determining current drug levels can be difficult, since some drugs linger in the body for a period of days or weeks after initial ingestion.
Some States have passed “per se” laws, in which it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle if there is any detectable level of a prohibited drug, or its metabolites, in the driver’s blood. Other State laws define “drugged driving” as driving when a drug “renders the driver incapable of driving safely” or “causes the driver to be impaired.”
If the officer suspects drug intoxication, a blood or urine sample is submitted to a laboratory for confirmation.
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