Driving under the influence of drugs is just as dangerous as drunk driving. This includes illicit drugs like marijuana and the misuse of prescription drugs. Certain medications, as well as marijuana, slow your reaction time, decrease coordination and impair judgment, making it dangerous to operate a motor vehicle. Some prescription medications carry warning labels cautioning against driving, even while taking the medication as prescribed.

We frequently see messages urging drivers to avoid getting behind the wheel after drinking, but less often do we see messages about dangers of drugged driving. In a study covering 1993 through 2010, marijuana was the drug most often found in blood of drivers involved in crashes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. However, prescription drugs are on the rise, with a 2010 study showing that 47 percent of drivers who tested positive for drugs had used a prescription drug, followed by 37 percent who used marijuana.

This danger is increased exponentially if alcohol is mixed with drugs. It can be difficult to get exact statistics on drugged driving because people tend to mix various substances, for example mixing marijuana with prescription drugs or alcohol. Studies have shown even small amounts of some drugs can have a measurable effect. In Texas, it is illegal to operate a vehicle while intoxicated.

“Intoxicated” means: not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body. Unlike alcohol, there is no specific blood level that is tested. A first offense DUI is a Class B Misdemeanor, which carries the following penalties: fine of up to $2,000; jail for 72 hours and up to 180 days; community service for 24 hours up to 100 hours; license suspension of up to one year; surcharge of $1,000 or $2,000 per year for three years.

There’s no question about it — drugged driving puts people at higher risk for crashes. It is important the public understands the dangers of impaired driving. Do what you can to help ensure no one whose driving could be impaired by drugs, legal or otherwise, gets behind the wheel. You can designate a driver, call a friend or family member, or call a taxi. For more information, contact the Bay Area Council on Drugs and Alcohol at 800-510-3111 or coalitions@bacoda.org.

Jennifer Newton is the communications coordinator for BACODA.

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