Police in Illinois and around the country have reported an alarming increase in drugged driving incidents, and their observations are backed up by data from a number of federal agencies. The problem is said to be most severe in Rust Belt states ravaged by opioid addiction and parts of the Pacific Northwest and South where methamphetamine use is widespread.
In 2014, about 10 million Americans admitted to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that they had operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of prescription drugs or illegal substances like cocaine, marijuana or heroin. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that drugged driving is as common as drunk driving among college students, and data from the agency reveals that one in five drivers in a 2014 survey were found to be under the influence of drugs of some kind.
The problem is a particularly thorny one when heroin is involved because users of the drug must inject, smoke or otherwise consume it on a fixed schedule to avoid the onset of withdrawal symptoms. The issue of drugged driving was thrust into the national spotlight in September 2016 when images emerged of a couple lying passed out in their vehicle after taking heroin while their infant son looked on from the back seat.
Drivers found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol can face severe penalties, but proving these charges beyond a reasonable doubt is not always straightforward for prosecutors. These cases often hinge on the validity of blood or breath tests, and this evidence may sometimes be challenged by experienced criminal defense attorneys. Breath test results could be unreliable if the equipment used was improperly calibrated or poorly maintained, and even blood tests may be questioned when the samples used could have been contaminated.