On behalf of Jeffrey Miller at Friedman, Hirschen, & Miller, LLP
Alcohol is not the only drug that impairs a motorist's ability to drive safely. Several weeks ago the Times Herald-Record of Middletown reported that a 21-year-old New York motorist was sentenced from 5 to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated homicide. The motorist had smoked marijuana and taken two Xanax tablets prior to driving.
While driving on Route 32 in the Town of Newburg in 2012, the drugged motorist's Audi reached speeds of over 100 mph. The Audi ultimately collided head-on with another vehicle. The driver whose car was struck head-on sustained severe personal injuries. Specifically, the man's spine was injured requiring multiple surgeries and causing him constant pain. The injured man has not yet regained the full use of one of his hands. Additionally, one of the drugged motorist's passengers died from her crash injuries.
The drugged driver involved in the 2012 Newburg auto accident was under 21 years of age at the time he decided to get high and take two Xanax tablets. The New York State Highway Safety Strategic Plan FFY 2014 observes that drivers under 30 are disproportionately represented among those involved in drug-impaired highway accidents. Moreover, for drivers under 21, drugged driving is actually a more serious issue than drunk driving.
Drugged driving may conjure up images of illicit drug use. That is not necessarily true. The State University of NY at Potsdam advises that even prescription and over-the-counter drugs can impair one's perception and judgment while driving. Just this year news outlets ranging from CNN to the NY Times covered the trial and acquittal of Kerry Kennedy who was charged with driving while under the influence of a drug. Ms. Kennedy stated that she had mistakenly taken a prescription sleeping pill instead of her prescription thyroid medication. The result was that she drove erratically on a New York highway and sideswiped a tractor-trailer.
A recent American Automobile Association study of the impact of medications on senior drivers showed that 78 percent of people 55 or older take medications that could, to one degree or another, impair driving. According to AAA, it is not uncommon to find drivers who have taken two or more impairing drugs at the same time. Unfortunately, says AAA, these prescription meds are sometimes combined with alcohol.
New York's response to drugged driving
The authors of New York's Highway Safety Strategic Plan observe that recent studies have documented that the involvement of drugs is a serious issue in fatal crashes, with one out of six fatalities being drug related. As set forth in the Strategic Plan, New York's goal is to reduce drugged driving accidents by:
- Educating police officers to recognize the signs of drugged driving.
- Better training for prosecutors handling drugged driving cases.
- Better training for toxicologists providing expert testimony.
- Educating and making the public aware of the problem.
- Educating young people of the dangers of drugged driving.
- Conducting enforcement in high risk areas for drugged driving.
Seeking legal counsel after a vehicular accident
Driving requires one's utmost attention and good judgment. A motorist needs to be able to react to changing road conditions in a split second. Driving while impaired, whether from drugs or alcohol, means that the driver cannot drive safely. If you or a loved one has been injured due to the negligence of someone who was driving while impaired, you need the assistance and counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney who can discuss the accident and advise you of your legal options under New York law.