Dangers of 'drugged driving' in the Pine Belt

Dangers of 'drugged driving' in the Pine Belt
Source: WDAM

MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - A recent report said "drugged driving" has now surpassed drunk driving deaths, and law enforcement in the Pine Belt said it is dangerous in the community.

The report, released last week by the Governor's Highway and Safety Association, said 43 percent of drivers tested in deadly crashes tested positive for legal and illegal drugs. Thirty-six percent tested for marijuana and 9 percent amphetamines.

The report is focused on fatal crashes. It shows that 2015 was the first time that drug use was more prevalent than alcohol use among fatally injured drivers with known test results.

Lt. Robert Little, narcotics supervisor with the Jones County Sheriff's Department, said deputies see a number of factors that play a role in fatal crashes.

Lt. Little said one of them in Jones County is increased use of marijuana and the potency of it. While Mississippi is one of four states where medical and recreational use of marijuana is illegal, Lt. Little said it is getting easier for people to get it in the area. Lt. Little said the drug was once coming from across the border, but now it can be driven in or sent in the mail from other states.

"There's a misconception that no one ever hurts anyone while smoking marijuana. But, your reactions are delayed similar to alcohol," Little said. "So, while marijuana may not make you to go 200 miles per hour down the road, it would probably prevent you from stopping in time at a red light and could cause an accident."

Lt. Little said once drivers are tested in fatal crash, the number with marijuana in their system is high in Mississippi.

It is not just marijuana, though. Lt. Little said a number of drivers use prescription pills, either legally or illegally, and do not consider the consequences.

"If someone receives some strong pain medication and then they get in a vehicle and drive and it causes them, it impairs them at some way and causes an accident," Little said. "Some will say, it was prescribed to me, there is nothing wrong with me driving."

Wayne County Sheriff Jody Ashley said drivers under the influence of prescription pills is something deputies see often in the area.

"Pain pills or heavy medications that would impair your drive. You read on the bottle, this may impair your driving," Ashley said. "Yes, it's very dangerous, because you aren't able to judge distance pulling out or things of that nature."

According to the GHSA report, the number of drivers who tested positive for drugs after dying in a crash rose from almost 28 percent in 2005 to 43 percent in 2015.

The report also discusses the difficulty for law enforcement when testing driving under the influence of drugs.The GHSA reports there are 430 specific drugs or metabolites in the national highway safety and fatality database.

Little said some Jones County patrol deputies have been sent through specialized training to recognize a driver under the influence of drugs, but he is likely to see more funding available for training and equipment.

"If you are in an accident and there is a fatality in Mississippi, you are going to be tested," Little said. "If you are tested and substances are in your system, it will cause you to face some serious charges."

In Mississippi, the charge of DUI causing the death of another carries a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.