At a time when drunken-driving deaths are dropping, deaths caused by people driving while impaired by prescription or illegal drugs are increasing.

The number of prescriptions given out for narcotic painkillers, anti-anxiety medications, sleep aids and other powerful drugs has increased at a rapid pace.

DUI cases involving drugs that result in auto accidents pose serious issues of proof for both law enforcement and prosecutors in a criminal context, as well as for car accident victims in seeking damages in a civil lawsuit or claim against an insurance company. When a driver is charged for driving under the influence of alcohol, there are clear thresholds used to determine whether a driver is impaired. In the case of a DUI involving drugs, this is not the case. There is no standardized measurement for the quantity of drugs in the blood that results in impaired driving.

It is not so much illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and heroine that are causing the problem, but the challenges in proving impairment that are posed by prescription drugs. The way that these types of drugs can affect a person varies widely. How much a person consumes can vary the effects. When prescription drugs are mixed with alcohol, it can significantly increase the impairment level. Stimulants can decrease someone’s ability to judge distances, while anti-anxiety drugs can dull alertness and slow reaction time.

The other litigation challenge in lawsuits involving car accidents caused by prescription drugs is that they have a legitimate purpose and may be medically necessary. The driver who caused your injuries may claim that he or she was never advised that there was any risk of driving while taking the medication. Sometimes the person who causes a prescription drug-related accident might legitimately not know that two different medications they are taking simultaneously are interacting to impair their driving ability.

It can also be very difficult to determine when a driver consumed the medication. Some medications linger in the body for days or weeks so it is harder to determine if a driver took drugs right before getting in their car. The issues of proving when and how much of a prescription medication was taken prior to getting behind the wheel of a car can make these cases much more difficult than cases involving drunk driving.

In a survey done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), they screened 5,900 drivers at night and found that 16.3 percent tested positive for legal or illegal drugs. Drivers can be just as deadly behind the wheel of a car with prescription drugs in their blood stream as they are with an over-the-limit blood alcohol level.