KAMLOOPS — If we believe everything we’ve been told so far, Tiger Woods was arrested for driving under the influence because he had been taking prescription drugs prior to driving. We won’t know for sure for a couple of weeks until toxicology tests come back, but if it turns out that’s what the problem was, it points out a growing concern among law officials over how to deal with people driving under the influence of substances other than alcohol. Prescription drugs are a particular problem, because even though many drugs have warnings about possible side effects, many don’t read the drug profiles, and many don’t give any thought about what effect those drugs might have on their ability to think straight.
If you consume alcohol, consume illicit drugs, you know they have negative effects and you shouldn’t be driving. But prescription drugs are, for the most part, a dog’s breakfast. Even when you’re given a warning, not everyone is affected the same way. And sometimes, you take drugs that, in combination, are far worse than the individual drugs. What officials are now working on is trying to determine a way of quickly testing whether or not a person is impaired. Field sobriety tests are a good preliminary indicator, but there is no test I know of right now that compares to a breathalyzer for giving a quick result. Toxicology tests take a long time, and while pretty conclusive, slow down the justice process significantly.
We will face the same problem soon once marijuana is legalized. And finding a quick test for pot influence is a huge concern. Right now, if an officer stops you, and you’ve been smoking pot, there’s often an odour that provides a trigger for further investigation. But once you’re legally allowed to have it, that pot smell could be on your clothes all the time, and it’s no longer as big a trigger for an officer to check further. There will still be physical signs if a person is impaired, but the smell of pot, and maybe even the smell of pot smoke in a vehicle may not be enough, depending on how the law is structured.
And while we want to protect the rights of people, we need to look at protecting the rights of potential victims, and we still have a ways to go to get to that stage.
Whatever the case, we have to ensure we are tough on those who drive under the influence no matter what the excuse. If you are taking new prescriptions, you shouldn’t be driving unless you’ve seen how they affect you, and in particular, affect you in combination with other medications. We have an obligation to ensure that people who get behind the wheel are able to drive safely. If they can’t, they need to be taken off the road, and if they’re impaired, they need to pay the price. No matter what the excuse.