In recent years, the United States has experienced a public health crisis. Opioid abuse and overdoses have skyrocketed over the past decade, and they have created a significant problem on Rhode Island roads.
Business Insider reports that the governors of Arizona, Florida and Maryland have all declared states of emergency, in order to grant them access to federal grant moneys through the Department of Health and Human Services. Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to the damage opiate users inflict upon themselves. Impaired drivers are responsible for thousands of traffic deaths every year. Injury victims are entitled to compensation for their injuries and losses under Rhode Island law. But it is also important to hold impaired drivers accountable for their dangerous - and often lethal - behavior.
The Opioid Epidemic Hits the Road
The opioid epidemic has caused a public health crisis across the United States, and this has expanded into the problem of impaired driving. The Washington Post reports that 2015 was the first year in which drugged driving caused more traffic fatalities than drunk driving. Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health reports that the number of opioid-impaired drivers who caused fatal traffic accidents increased seven times between 1995 and 2015. (Interestingly, more women than men tested positive for opioids in this study.) The problem has received much media attention nationwide. Unfortunately, the awareness of an opioid problem in America has not made it any easier to enforce impaired driving laws.
The Problem and the Solution
Driving under the influence of prescription narcotics is a violation of Rhode Island criminal laws. However: like most other states, Rhode Island has not been able to set a blood level at which impaired driving can be inferred. Unlike alcohol, researchers have not yet been able to confidently assess the point at which humans are likely to be impaired by such drugs. This makes it more difficult for officers to establish probable cause that a driver is impaired by drugs. It also makes it more difficult for prosecutors to both file and prosecute charges of impaired driving, which a jury must generally infer from testimony about the driver’s behavior.
Grassroots movements have been incredibly effective at targeting the causes of drunk driving. Now, the social stigma of having a DUI is as powerful a deterrent as the criminal consequences. Consider joining local advocacy organizations, writing to your elected representatives, and campaigning for change to impaired driving laws. On a daily basis, drivers and passengers should be on the lookout for impaired driving behaviors. Allow plenty of space between your vehicle and an unsafe driver. Call law enforcement to report the danger when it is safe to do so.
As with drunk driving, it is important to speak up when you observe a friend or family member who is too impaired to drive. While such conversations can be uncomfortable or considered “nagging," they are conversations which can save lives. Good communication can help keep the roads of Rhode Island safe for everyone.
If you or a loved one has been injured by an impaired driver, contact a Providence car accident attorney as soon as possible.