By Erin Gerstenzang

A recent article by U.S. News and World Report highlights the danger of driving under the influence of drugs. Particularly when usage of drugs is combined with alcohol, drivers are much more likely to be in a fatal accident. Drivers who test positive for only alcohol but test negative for drugs are 13 times more likely to be in a fatal crash compared to drivers who test negative for both alcohol and drugs. Compare this to drivers who test positive for both drugs and alcohol. Those drivers are a stunning 23 times more likely to be in a fatal crash when compared to drivers who test negative for both.

Understanding Georgia Driving Laws

Georgia law prohibits driving under the influence of any drug to the extent that it impairs the ability of the person to drive. Also, Georgia law prohibits anyone from operating a motor vehicle with any amount of a controlled substance in his body without a legal prescription. However, keep in mind that being legally entitled to use the drug is not a defense, as long as the drug has made you “less safe” to drive.

A person can even take their medication in the manner prescribed by a physician and be guilty of drugged driving. Because this “less safe” standard is difficult to define and there is no clear standard (or per se limit) for drugged driving (such as the .08% for alcohol, an experienced Georgia drugged driving attorney may be able to help defend you.

In response to reports of an increase in drugged driving from states like Florida (where drugged driving crashes have skyrocketed), the White House has made reducing drugged driving a national priority. The Office of National Drug Control Policy has set an ambitious goal of reducing drugged driving by 10% before 2015. As one step toward this goal, the White House is advocating increased training for law enforcement officers and an increased use of testing. Currently, Georgia tests about 50% of drivers who are involved in fatal crashes.

Although there are many drugs that are dangerous, a recent article from Columbia University specifically looked at marijuana and driving. They found that drivers who tested positive for marijuana use within three hours of driving were more than twice as likely to be involved in a car accident as those that did not.

However, even legal drugs can have a dangerous effect. Any drug that affects alertness, attention and processing speed, reaction time, sensory functioning (seeing), and executive functions (decision-making), could cause a person to be guilty of drugged driving. One complicating factor is that drugs often affect different populations in different ways. For example, persons who have a poor metabolism or who are elderly may be more affected by certain drugs.

The bottom line:  It is important for all Georgia residents to be vigilant about their mental state whenever they are behind the wheel. Failure to do so may result in accidents or, when stopped by authorities, criminal charges.