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While drunk driving is clearly a major problem, alcohol is not the only substance that can cause injury and death on the highways. Driving while under the influence of drugs is also illegal and is just as dangerous as drunk driving. While the criminal law system will hopefully punish the drugged driver who caused an accident, victims can also take legal action by filing a personal injury lawsuit to obtain compensation for their financial and non-economic losses.

What drugs impair driving?

There are three general classes of drugs that may negatively impact one’s driving ability:

  1. Schedule I controlled substances, such as heroin, LSD, marijuana and MDMA (Ecstasy).
  2. Prescribed medicines that characteristically are sedating and which may be abused. Those that have abuse potential are typically Schedule II, III, IV and V controlled substances. Barbiturates, benzodiazepines, codeine, and cold and sleep medications fall into this category.
  3. The third group of medicines that may impair driving is over-the-counter (OTC) medications that may cause sedation but typically are not subject to abuse.

Is driving under the influence of drugs a crime in South Carolina?

South Carolina’s DUI law is found in SC Code Section 56-5-2930, which states:

(A) It is unlawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle within this State while under the influence of alcohol to the extent that the person’s faculties to drive a motor vehicle are materially and appreciably impaired, under the influence of any other drug or a combination of other drugs or substances which cause impairment to the extent that the person’s faculties to drive a motor vehicle are materially and appreciably impaired, or under the combined influence of alcohol and any other drug or drugs or substances which cause impairment to the extent that the person’s faculties to drive a motor vehicle are materially and appreciably impaired.

Clearly, a driver can be found guilty of DUI even if they have not been drinking alcohol.

Drug Impaired Driving: How Big is the Problem?

Driving while impaired by drugs is a big problem in South Carolina and throughout the United States. The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that nearly 10 million people over the age of 12 (or 3.8 percent of adolescents and adults) reported they had driven under the influence of illicit drugs at least once during the previous year. This includes using marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type psychotherapeutics used nonmedically, and methamphetamines. And this doesn’t even include people who were abusing prescription drugs or who were impaired by sedating over-the-counter medications.

Significantly, some people drive while using a combination of alcohol and drugs. According to the NSDUH, between 2006 and 2009, 21.9 percent of drinking drivers aged 16 and up had also taken illegal drugs. Drivers between ages 16 and 25 were more likely to drive while under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs: 38.7 percent of drivers aged 16-25 reported this behavior, as compared with only 15.8 percent of older drivers.

Because the National Survey on Drug Use and Health depends on answers from survey respondents, it is entirely likely that the real numbers are higher than what was reported.

What happens when people impaired by drugs and/or alcohol get behind the wheel? Too often they cause fatal accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported on the Drug Involvement of Fatally Injured Drivers. According to the report, 13,801 (63%) of the fatally injured drivers in 2009 were tested for drugs. Of those, 18% tested positive for drug use prior to the crash.

How do drugs affect driving ability?

The effects of specific drugs are different, depending on how they act in the brain. Even small amounts of some drugs can measurably impair one’s driving ability. In order to safely operate a motor vehicle, one must have full use of a number of faculties, including motor skills, balance and coordination, perception, attention, reaction time, and judgment.

After alcohol, the substance most commonly found in the blood of impaired drivers, fatally injured drivers, and motor vehicle crash victims is THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Studies have found that approximately 4 to 14 percent of drivers who sustained injury or died in traffic accidents tested positive for THC. Marijuana can negatively affect a driver’s attentiveness, perception of time and speed, and ability to draw on information obtained from past experiences. Additionally, when combined with alcohol marijuana has an even more significant effect on driving ability. As more jurisdictions permit the sale and use of marijuana, we are likely to see more crashes caused by weed-smoking drivers. Colorado has already experienced such an impact.

Stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine can lead to risky driving by making the user feel over-confident. Higher doses of amphetamines often make people hostile and aggressive. Cocaine use also affects vision, causing blurring, glare and hallucinations.

Hurt by a Drug Impaired Driver? Our Lawyers Can Help

At The Louthian Firm Accident & Injury Lawyers, our experienced South Carolina car accident lawyers have been helping families harmed by drugged drivers for nearly five decades. Discipline . . . diligence . . . dedication . . . these are the qualities we offer to help you get the compensation you deserve for your accident injuries.

AttorneysWe believe that people whose lives have been turned upside down by a drugged driver deserve a voice. Our advocacy begins with a free, no-obligation evaluation of your case, and we will not charge you any legal fees unless we are successful in obtaining car accident compensation for you. Whether negotiating an out-of-court settlement or doing battle in a trial, we will be vigorously representing your interests every step of the way.

Call the car accident lawyers at the The Louthian Firm Accident & Injury Lawyers today toll free at 803-592-6231 or locally in Columbia at 803-592-6231. You can also complete our online inquiry form to find out how we can assist you after a collision in Columbia or elsewhere in the state of South Carolina.

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