DWIs at Historically Low Rates, Drug Influenced Driving on the Rise

As you can see from this chart, Driving While Impaired fatalities have declined as an absolute number, and as a percentage of all traffic fatalities, since 1982:

Alcohol-related deaths in the US since 1982:

 
Total fatalities
Alcohol-related
fatalities
Year
Number
Number
Percent
1982
43,945
26,173
60
1983
42,589
24,635
58
1984
44,257
24,762
56
1985
43,825
23,167
53
1986
46,087
25,017
54
1987
46,390
24,094
52
1988
47,087
23,833
51
1989
45,582
22,424
49
1990
44,599
22,587
51
1991
41,508
20,159
49
1992
39,250
18,290
47
1993
40,150
17,908
45
1994
40,716
17,308
43
1995
41,817
17,732
42
1996
42,065
17,749
42
1997
42,013
16,711
40
1998
41,501
16,673
40
1999
41,717
16,572
40
2000
41,945
17,380
41
2001
42,196
17,400
41
2002
43,005
17,524
41
2003
42,643
17,013
40
2004
42,518
16,919
39
2005
43,443
16,885
39
2006
42,532
15,829
37
2007
41,059
15,387
37
2008
37,261
13,846
37
2009
33,808
12,744
38

While drunk driving has declined nationwide, and in North Carolina, drugged driving – by that, I mean driving while under the influence of an impairing substance other than alcohol – has most certainly increased, in part because the detection of driving while drugged cases is much harder to accomplish.

All sorts of tools exist to catch drunk drivers, from Standardized Field Sobriety Tests to handheld Portable Breath Tests (PBTs) to breathalyzer machines (Intox EC/IR II) to laws that are geared toward stopping drunk drivers. In addition, the legal framework has established per se limits that mean that in certain cases people who have registered a .08 or above will be found guilty and punished.

The legal framework to handle drugged driving cases is much less well developed. In NC, while any amount of opiates in the system can mean a DWI conviction, other drugs are not so strictly and clearly regulated. For instance, the NC DWI statutes do not establish a cut-off limit for the metabolites of marijuana, or Ambien or a whole host of other drugs. So it’s left to the finder of fact to determine whether a close enough link was made between the substance found, and the impaired actions of the defendant.

In addition, there are fewer tools to identify whether someone is drugged while driving. For instance, there is no PBT device. And not every police officer is trained in how to identify the impairing effects of drugs. While any police officer who has completed the 24-hour NHTSA SFST course can conduct DWI arrests, far fewer police officers, whether Raleigh Police Department officers or Cary or Apex police officers, are trained as Drug Recognition Experts.

The relative scarcity of DREs means that these cases are much harder for the prosecution to prove.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.