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One beautiful June morning in 2006, four community leaders from Bowling Green set out for a scenic drive on their motorcycles. For two of them, the ride would be their last.
As they were driving through Logan County, a truck driver crossed a double-yellow line, killing two of the men and seriously injuring another. The truck driver had in her possession marijuana and drug supplies. In fact, she admitted to driving with drugs in her system, and tests verified that she had smoked marijuana before driving the vehicle.
In Kentucky, drugged driving is becoming all too common. In 2007, 17 children were injured in the Grant County Middle School bus crash. Their bus driver was driving with cocaine, marijuana and prescription painkillers in her system.
In both of these tragedies, we see a disturbing trend - in neither case was the drugged driver convicted of DUI.
Kentucky's laws are vague in relation to drugged driving and need to be changed. A recent poll, conducted by Preston-Osborne in February, suggests Kentuckians support that change. In fact, more than 85 percent of respondents said they would support the provisions in drugged driving bills currently under consideration in our General Assembly (HB 30, HB 25, and SB 71). If such a law were passed, 92 percent of respondents said the punishment for drugged driving should be at least the same as if not more severe than those for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Kentucky law provides for a conviction of driving under the influence once an alcohol concentration of .08 or higher is proven. Despite the obvious outcry from Kentucky citizens and prosecutors, no such law exists for individuals driving with drugs in their systems. Since it is illegal for any person to possess or consume illegal drugs, our laws should reflect a zero tolerance for those who drive with illegal drugs in their systems.
Our legislative leaders showed great foresight several years ago by enacting the zero tolerance DUI law for minors. The theory is that since it's illegal for a person under age 21 to buy, possess or consume alcoholic beverages, it should also be a crime for an underage person to have a measurable amount of alcohol in his or her system while driving. We believe this theory is sound and should be applied to illegal drugs as well.
In 1991, Kentucky enacted its first per se law stating that those who drive with a specific blood-alcohol level are guilty of DUI. Since that time, DUI injuries and fatalities have steadily decreased. In fact, when comparing 1991 DUI injuries and fatalities to those in 2006, we find that the number of injuries and fatalities has been cut by more than 43 percent. If we applied that same logic to the effect a per se law could have on those driving with controlled substances in their systems, we could see a similar decrease each year, thus preventing an estimated 433 injuries and fatalities caused by drugged drivers in a calendar year.
Currently, our laws more harshly punish those who simply possess illegal drugs than those who drive with drugs in their systems. For example, a person could receive one to five years in a state penitentiary for possessing even a small amount of cocaine. Possessing cocaine is a felony; however, driving under the influence of cocaine is only a misdemeanor. The drugged driver - who had the drugs in his or her possession before consuming them - endangers the lives of innocent motorists, passengers and pedestrians. But he or she cannot even be charged with possession under current law.
The Kentucky County Attorneys Association, made up of county attorneys across the state, supports HB 30, HB 25 and SB 71, which state, in effect, that drivers with traces of controlled substances in their blood are deemed to be under the influence of those drugs and are therefore guilty of DUI. Our bill is similar to drugged driving laws in 15 other states except for the fact that our bill provides an absolute defense to an offender who is driving with a legally prescribed controlled substance in his or her blood, as long as the driver is following the prescribed dosage and the proper driving restrictions.
This year marks our fourth attempt to get a drugged driver bill passed. Our hope is that a drugged driver bill will pass before a tragedy on the magnitude of the Carrollton Bus Crash befalls our state again. Let's do it now - let's be proactive, not reactive.
With vocal community support, a drugged driver bill has a much better chance of passage. Senate Bill 71 easily has passed the Senate, but drugged driver bills continually run into roadblocks in the House. Please help protect law-abiding citizens by contacting your legislators in support of HB 30, HB 25 and SB 71 and help keep drugged drivers off Kentucky roads.
- Brucie Moore is president of the Kentucky Court Attorneys Association.