Drugged Driving vs. Drunk Driving

Michigan’s New Law

When Daniel Boyd Jr. crashed his car into the back of a stationary semitrailer, he was highly intoxicated. However, he was not drunk. In fact, his blood alcohol content was .00. How can this be, you may wonder? Sadly, it is really no mystery, although a new Michigan law that went into effect at the new year may help to prevent these types of accidents in the future.

Boyd was under the influence of prescription hydrocodone at the time of the accident. This drug can significantly affect a driver’s ability to perform behind the wheel but has none of the same telltale signs that police have come to rely on for detecting drunk drivers. Signs such as a pungent odor when first coming into contact with the driver, and the obvious breathalyzer test results.

New laws signed into effect by Governor Snyder now allow police officers to conduct the standard breathalyzer test at the scene, in addition to a roadside sobriety test. This will allow officers to detect if the individual is under the influence of controlled or illegal drugs but not alcohol.

In the event of a drugged driving conviction, the penalties will look very similar to those associated with drunk driving. This includes the possible loss of driving privileges, either permanently or temporarily depending upon the nature of the offense.

Another consequence of a drugged driving conviction would be that the individual would have their information added to a statewide database, identifying them to any officer who accessed the information as a convicted drugged driver.

This was put in place to avoid incidents like that of Lisa Bergman, a 30-year-old woman from the Port Huron area who caused a fatal accident under the influence of narcotic pain killers. It was later discovered that she had been pulled over six times over a span of five years for this same offense. The existence of a statewide drugged driver database would have alerted officers to Bergman’s habit of drugged driving much sooner. It might have helped to avoid the tragic collision that took two men’s lives.

A provision that was initially proposed as part of the bill package, but met with significant public resistance and was later removed, would have allowed police to conduct a roadside saliva test to detect drugs in the driver’s saliva. But this was widely criticized as having not been sufficiently tested and, therefore, open to a significant margin of error.

Proponents of the legalization of medical marijuana, in particular, spoke out against this proposal, claiming that legal medical marijuana patients would be at risk for wrongful arrest. The theory behind this argument was that, should the saliva test show a positive result for marijuana in their systems, they would be arrested for intoxicated driving, even if they were not subject to the effects of the drug at the time.

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