Motorists Cautioned About Dangers Of Driving Under Influence Of Legal Drugs
PennDOT and the Pennsylvania State Police are reminding motorists that driving while under the influence of prescription and over-thecounter medication can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol and illegal drugs.
PennDOT will work with state and municipal police departments throughout Halloween week to step up impaired-driving enforcement, with increased emphasis on driving under the influence of drugs – DUI-D.
“Many of us don’t realize the serious side effects of medications that some people take every day,” said PennDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler, P.E. “The combination of cold medicine and alcohol or choosing to take an extra painkiller could have potentially devastating effects if you get behind the wheel.”
PennDOT data shows that crashes involving drivers suspected of drug use – legal or illegal – are increasing. Last year, there were 451 crashes and 25 fatalities involving drivers suspected of being impaired by any type of drug, which is up from 381 crashes and 21 fatalities in 2008. Crashes involving legal drug use have climbed from 74 in 2008 to 110 in 2009.
In addition to crashes, DUI-D arrests have risen to more than 10,500 last year, which is a result of more law enforcement officers being trained as drug recognition experts, or DREs. There are currently more than 75 DREs that are able to characterize and stop impaired motorists in seven major drug categories.
A DRE officer is consulted when a driver seems to be impaired and their blood alcohol concentration doesn’t match the level of impairment, indicating drugs might be involved. State and municipal police officers in Pennsylvania have made more than 47,000 DUI-D arrests since the program began in 2004.
“Drug recognition experts are playing an increasingly important role in law enforcement efforts to take impaired drivers off the roads,” said state police Commissioner Frank E. Pawlowski.
Some of the prescribed drugs that are most commonly encountered during DRE evaluations include Xanax (Alprazolam), Klonopin (Clonazepam), Oxycontin (Oxycodone) and Vicodin (Hydrocodone).
For a first-time offender, a DUI-D arrest carries a penalty of a 12-month license suspension, 72 hours to six months in prison, $1,000 to $5,000 fine and alcohol highway safety school.