New law aims to crack down on driving while intoxicated - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

New law aims to crack down on driving while intoxicated

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(02/11/13) - A new law will make it illegal to drive under the influence of anything, even over the counter and prescription drugs most of us assume are "safe".

Is this taking driving intoxicated laws too far?

Under current law, driving under the influence of alcohol and controlled substances is illegal. But, a driver who is high on anything else might never be convicted.

That is where this new law comes in.

Next time you are out driving on the weekend, take a good look around you. According to a study by the National Highway Safety Administration, about two out of every 10 drivers are under the influence - of something.

"At the drug recognition expert program, we define a drug as any substance which when taken into the body can impair a person's ability to operate a vehicle safely - the operative word is 'safely,'" said Ofc. Wes Evans, DRE, of the Grand Blanc Twp. Police.

That's what officers are trained to look for in this DRE training course at the Michigan State Police training academy in Lansing. But, instructor Evans says, under the current law, a lot of the drivers police stop and arrest for driving under the influence might never be convicted.

"When the case comes before the prosecutor, and they can say, we see the impairment because it is not in the CSA, under the current law. So we can't charge them because it is not a controlled substance," he said.

Under current law, over the counter drugs, like sleep aids and cold medicines, are not considered controlled substances. So, if they show up in a toxicology report of someone arrested for driving under the influence, there would be no conviction.

"So someone who is drinking a whole bottle of cough syrup and deciding to drive a car after having one beer. That would make a pretty scary scenario for anyone out on the highway, but do they exist? I guarantee you, there is someone out there right now that's in that position," Evans said.

The new law covers over the counter drugs, and any other intoxicating substance - including chemicals like paint thinners, household cleaners and ingredients for designer drugs like Bath Salts.

But that also includes antidepressant, anti-anxiety and other medications, which has the mental health community concerned some patients will make a dangerous choice.

"If you're looking for a reason to not take the drug, all you have to say is 'my drug is on this list that is put out by the legislature and the prosecuting attorney's association, so I am not taking it, I don't care what you say,'" said Dan Russell, of Genesee C.M.H.

State Senator Dave Robertson, who authored the law, says it is not aimed at patients who are taking drugs responsibly.

"This is intended for people who are using these medications for the purposes of becoming intoxicated and are behind the wheel.," he said.

The law passed during the lame duck legislative session, when just about everyone's focus was on Right to Work legislation.

Some critics questioned the timing, but Roberts says the law has been in the works since 2011, with bipartisan support.

"We received unanimous support in the Senate and near-unanimous support in the House over the last session," he said.

Ultimately, the mental health community supports the law, but has asked Roberston to tweak the language.

"We just wanted something that we can show to consumers so they will not be afraid of being pulled over or jailed for following doctor's orders," Russell said.

Evans knows the new law will not take all of the intoxicated drivers off the road - nor is it fool proof. But, he says, even if it took 1 percent of the thousands of impaired drivers arrested every year off the roads, we would all be safer.

"You're looking at drivers, some of whom may have injured and killed somebody, that could literally not be charged under what they did, which is impaired driving," Evans said.

The new law goes into effect March 31.

By it's wording, it would cover the next "Bath Salts" or any other "highs" people come up with in the future.

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