New York lawmakers are taking a closer look at the state’s drugged-driving laws. The heightened scrutiny is in response to a loophole in state law that prohibits the prosecution of those who are found to be driving while high, but not on a substance specified on the state’s prohibition list. One of the most egregious examples of this loop is a nine-year-old tragedy in Long Island in which an eighteen-year-old woman was hit and killed by a driver who, moments before getting behind the wheel, inhaled aerosol dust to get high. The driver was never held accountable in court because the substance that rendered him intoxicated was not on the list of the state’s banned substances.
Designed to give scientific legitimacy to DUI charges, the language of the law states that summonses for drugged-driving can be issued only if the driver is found to be abusing specific substances on the state-sanctioned list. It does not allow for the discretion of the observing officer. New York is one of ten states that still has this loophole.
Keeping Up with the Times
Critics of the law say that it allows offenders to evade prosecution in an era when substance abuse threats are more diverse and sophisticated than ever before. The advent of synthetic drugs has made justice under this statute practically impossible for victims and their families. Newer and lesser-discussed substances like K2 and other forms of synthetic marijuana are just some of the drugs that do not appear on the state’s list, and thus, are deemed prosecutable under current law. A more recent example includes a driver who was stopped in Nassau County for erratic driving, whereupon the officer discovered she was high on a certain type of bath salt not on the prohibition list. She avoided prosecution because the bath salt she was high on is chemically altered just enough to escape being placed on the list.
What is particularly unusual is that even though laws currently exist to possess and distribute these new drugs, traffic law has not yet caught up with criminal law, and there continues to be a disconnect.
Is There an Alternative?
Only a select few states rely exclusively on controlled-substance lists to dictate drugged-driving law. The 37 other states offer broader definitions of the term “drug” and rely heavily on officer observation and discretion. California allows any driver to be charged with an intoxication offense if the they use any substance that compromises their ability to operate a vehicle. Similar legislation is pending in New York. Critics of the broadened language say that it targets those whose physiology renders them impaired by everyday drugs like over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprophen.
It is not clear how the official language of the law will read or if there will even be a change; however, it is clear that something needs to be done to protect driver from any motorist who knowingly engage in drug-related impaired driving, no matter what substance in question.