24/7 Support Line
When Tiger Woods was pulled over in Florida a few weeks ago, he blew 0.000 on a breathalyzer yet he still went to jail, charged with driving under the influence. A dash cam provided by law enforcement showed Woods undergoing sobriety tests, and Woods made it clear to the officers that he had not been drinking but that he was on prescription medication.
To police, it didn’t matter. Impairment is impairment, no matter what specific substance caused the issue, and so in Florida, the emphatic answer to the question of whether or not it is possible to get arrested for DUI without drinking a drop of alcohol is 100 percent “yes.”
Sargent Mark Wysocky is a spokesperson for Florida Highway Patrol. He said: “You just have to remember when you have taken these prescriptions, if you’re impaired you’re impaired, whether it’s alcohol or drugs.”
The problem is that “impairment” is a vague notion with no parameters that make it a uniform guideline to apply in all cases. Sobriety tests beyond the breathalyzer can be valuable to law enforcement, especially when they are recorded because the videos can demonstrate that a person was unable to, for example, walk a straight line or pass a visual acuity test, and it is therefore reasonable to conclude objectively that they were too impaired to drive no matter what the cause.
Though there are machines that can effective identify the presence of a short list of drugs in the system, they are not widely used in everyday traffic stops because they are big and more appropriate for DUI checkpoints. Additionally, they do not show levels, so someone may have taken one of the substances in the previous days but not be impaired at the time of the test and have a positive result. Even a follow-up blood test that demonstrates specific levels will not demonstrate impairment level as there is no agreed-upon amount of any drug (other than alcohol) in the system that equates with impairment in all people.
Woods released a statement saying that he had experienced an unexpected reaction to medication that he had been prescribed by a doctor – medications that included Vicodin, an opiate pain reliever. The implication is that, though he may not have been able to drive safely, he did not purposefully drink or use drugs to excess on a recreational level. The impaired driving as well as its consequences were unintended; thus, the question before the court will be whether or not this lack of malicious intent alters the outcome and the penalties. Is inadvertent negligence and/or a lack of self-awareness that comes with drug use a plausible excuse for getting behind the wheel and driving unsafely, putting oneself and others at risk?
The precedents are mixed. Some say that it is a viable defense to report to the court that one was doing nothing more than taking a medication and was not warned against driving. However, others say that a person has the responsibility to be aware of how they are feeling and to choose not to get behind the wheel when they are not capable of operating a vehicle safely. Unless it was the very first time they had taken the medication, many would say that it is not excusable that they chose to get behind the wheel, knowing its impact – that the risks of such a choice are far too high to minimize.
More than 49,700 people were charged with driving under the influence in Florida in 2014, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety. There are, however, no statistics that differentiate the arrests made for alcohol use versus those made for the use of other substances; they are all classified as DUI arrests.
It was, however, suspected that about 2,000 accidents across the state in 2015 were connected to use of drugs, though only about 550 of those were confirmed as drug-related. Across the country, the rate of drivers who die in a car accident and test positive for at least one drug in their system has doubled in the past decade. Drugged driving is a serious issue and correlates with the steadily increasing use of addictive substances, indicating the serious nature and widespread effect of this epidemic.
Is it time for you or someone you love to get help to manage the problem of drug use and related consequences?