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Drugged driving

Published October 27. 2010 05:00PM

The Pennsylvania Driving Under the Influence Association is joining with PennDOT, municipal and state police this Halloween season to heighten the awareness of Pennsylvania drivers that drugged driving is drunk driving even on legal drugs. Driving, or even attempting to operate a vehicle, while under the influence of prescription and over-the-counter drugs is the same criminal offense as driving under the influence of alcoholic beverage or illegal drugs.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, recently released survey results show that the average American takes 13 prescription drugs each year. Many of the prescribed medications mixed with alcoholic beverage can become a deadly cocktail. Factor in the use of some self-prescribed over-the-counter medications taken at the same time as prescription drugs, and impairment can be as great as if the person's blood alcohol concentration was a .08 or greater.

Penalties for drugged driving are the same as being convicted of impaired driving at a .16 or above blood alcohol concentration. Mandatory jail time, a long suspension of one's driver license and thousands of dollars of fines and costs are just part of the penalty. Being convicted of any impaired driving offense is no different than committing any other misdemeanor crime. A criminal record can result in the loss of job, family and future.

PennDOT data shows that crashes involving drivers suspected of drug use legal or illegal are increasingannually. Last year, 451 crashes and 25 fatalities involving drivers suspected of being impaired by anytype of drug, up from 381 crashes and 21 fatalities in 2008. Crashes involving legal drug use have climbed from 74 in 2008 to 110 in 2009. DUI-Drug arrests have risen to more than 10,500 last year,over 20 percent of the total DUI arrests in Pennsylvania.

Currently, 77 certified Drug Recognition experts (DREs) are able to evaluate impaired motorists using astandardized and systematic process to determine with over 90 percent accuracy which of the seven drugcategories are causing the impairment. A DRE officer is consulted when a driver seems to be impairedand their blood alcohol concentration does not correlate to the level of impairment which the lawenforcement officer is seeing.

"Drug recognition experts are the most effective tool to enforce drugged driving laws" said C. StephenErni, executive director of the Pennsylvania Driving Under the Influence Association.

The Association has also been involved with the training of over 750 officers in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving enforcement curriculum designedto help law enforcement officers recognize signs and symptoms of drug impairment and subsequently contact the drug recognition expert for further evaluation of the suspected drugged driver.

In addition to some of the most commonly prescribed Potential Driver Impairing (PDI) drugs like Xanax,Soma, Klonopin, Oxycontin and Vicodin, such over-the-counter drugs as antihistamines and cough/coldmedications containing DXM (dextromethorphan) can cause just as much as impairment as illicit drugsand abused prescription drugs.

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