Opioid-Impaired Drivers Are on the Rise and Putting Florida Drivers at Risk
With so much media attention on drunk driving, it is easy to forget that other forms of impairment are also putting Florida drivers at risk. The Washington Post reports 2015 was the first year in which drugged driving caused more traffic fatalities than drunk driving. This is part of a larger opioid epidemic which has caused a public health crisis across the United States.
After any auto accident, injury victims have the legal right to be compensated for their injuries and losses. An experienced Florida car accident attorney will hold all impaired drivers accountable for their actions. F.S. 316.193 prohibits drivers from operating motor vehicles not just with a bodily-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher, but under the influence of any substance to the extent one's normal faculties are impaired. That includes opioids - even if the drug is lawfully prescribed.
The Opioid Epidemic Hits Florida
The American Journal of Public Health reports that the number of fatally injured drivers with prescription opioids in their system increased more than seven times between 1995 and 2015. Florida is far from immune from the country's epidemic of prescription drug abuse. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, nearly four thousand Floridians died in 2015 as a result of heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone. This represents 12% of all the opioid overdose deaths in the United States in 2015. For reference, Florida's prorated share of deaths across fifty states would only be 2%. In May 2017, Governor Rick Scott declared a public health emergency in Florida as a result of the opioid epidemic. According to NBC News, this measure will allow the state to access more than $54 million in federal grant moneys from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Unfortunately, the awareness of an opioid problem in America has not made it any easier to enforce impaired driving laws. Driving under the influence of prescription narcotics is a violation of Florida criminal laws. But Florida, like most other states, has not been able to set a blood level at which impaired driving can be inferred. Unlike alcohol, researchers have not yet been able to confidently assess the point at which humans are likely to be impaired by such drugs. This makes it more difficult for officers to establish probable cause that a driver is impaired by drugs. It also makes it more difficult for prosecutors to both file and prosecute charges of impaired driving, which a jury must generally infer from testimony about the driver's behavior.
What Floridians Can Do To Keep the Roads Safe
Grassroots movements have been incredibly effective at targeting the causes of drunk driving. Now, the social stigma of having a DUI is as powerful a deterrent as the criminal consequences. Consider joining local advocacy organizations, writing to your elected representatives, and campaigning for change to impaired driving laws. On a daily basis, drivers and passengers should be on the lookout for impaired driving behaviors. Allow plenty of space between your vehicle and an unsafe driver. Call law enforcement to report the danger when it is safe to do so.
As with drunk driving, it is important to speak up when you observe a friend or family member who is too impaired to drive. While such conversations can be uncomfortable or considered "nagging," they are conversations which can save lives. If you are injured by the actions of a driver you know or suspect was under the influence of prescription drugs, you may have cause for legal action. An experienced auto accident lawyer can help explain your legal options.