The Danger To Motorcyclists Presented By Drugged Drivers

As discussed on this site, one of the ongoing traffic safety issues with regard to the ability to safely ride motorcycles in Illinois traffic is the ability of motorists to “see” motorcyclists.

There are many Illinois accidents – including those summarized on this site – in which a motorcyclist is hit by a car because the car’s driver did not “see” the motorcycle.  Often, these accidents involve a car, SUV or truck making a left-hand turn immediately in front of an oncoming motorcycle, causing a collision which in many cases causes fatal injuries to the motorcyclist.

As well, many other accidents involve a driver “not seeing” the motorcycle, thus causing a collision.

This inability of a vehicle’s driver to “see” and safely interact with motorcycles is made much harder if the motorist is impaired, either by alcohol or by drug use.  Many Illinois motorcycle accidents which are not the fault of the motorcyclist are caused by impaired drivers.  [It should also be noted that a large percentage of motorcycle accidents are caused by the motorcyclist driving after drinking.  This issue is further discussed on the “Illinois Motorcycle Riding After Drinking” page.]

While, in the past, such motorist impairment typically involved drinking before driving (DUI), in recent years this driver impairment increasingly has involved driving after drug use.  The following discusses the issue of “drugged driving” including Chicago-area traffic accidents involving drivers who have been impaired by drug use.  At least two recent Illinois fatal motorcycle accidents involve a drug-impaired driver striking a motorcycle.  Those accidents are discussed below.

Drugged Driving

“Drugged driving” (also called “driving under the influence of drugs (DUID)”) has become a serious traffic safety issue for many reasons.  There have been many recent Chicago-area accidents in which the driver has been under the influence of drugs.  As well, the frequency of such accidents is notably high and has been increasing.

Common drugs that have been used in Chicago-area “drugged driving” include marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and meth.  Amphetamines is another drug commonly associated with drug-impaired driving.  In addition to these drugs, the National Institute of Health (NIH) lists many different types of abused drugs which may cause significant impairment.  As seen on the “Commonly Abused Drug Charts” page, other such drugs include DMT, GHB, hallucinogens, inhalants, Khat, LSD, MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) and Bath Salts.

Different drugs can cause different types and levels of driver impairment.  For example, as seen on the NIH “Drugged Driving” page, it can be seen that the effect of cocaine use on driving is different than that of marijuana use.

In addition to the illegal drugs mentioned above, prescription drugs – used either legally or illegally, and in proper or improper dosages – are often involved in such drug-impaired driving.

An excerpt concerning prescription drugs and driving impairment, from the NIH “Drugged Driving” page:

Along with marijuana, prescription drugs are also commonly linked to drugged driving crashes. A 2010 nationwide study of deadly crashes found that about 47 percent of drivers who tested positive for drugs had used a prescription drug, compared to 37 percent of those had used marijuana and about 10 percent of those who had used cocaine. The most common prescription drugs found were pain relievers.5 However, the study didn’t distinguish between medically-supervised and illicit use of the prescription drugs.

Mixed-Drug Use

If multiple drugs are used at the same time – or a drug such as marijuana is used with alcohol – the interaction can be particularly powerful and intoxicating.  Such “mixed-drug” use has been seen in many recent serious accidents (including those involving fatalities) in the Chicago area.

“Drugged Driving” Statistics

On April 26, 2017, the Governors Safety Highway Association (GHSA) released a press release concerning “drugged driving.”  The release is titled “New Report Calls States to Take Action on Drug-Impaired Driving.”

A couple of notable excerpts from the release:

With more states legalizing marijuana and record numbers of people dying from drug overdoses, concerns about drug-impaired driving are escalating. While we have made progress in combatting drunk driving in recent decades, drug use by drivers continues to rise. In fact, in 2015 (the most recent national data available) drugs were present in 43% of the fatally-injured drivers with known test results, appearing more frequently than alcohol.

also:

“As drunk driving has declined, drugged driving has increased dramatically and many of today’s impaired drivers are combining two or more substances, which has a multiplicative effect on driver impairment,” said Ralph. S. Blackman, President and CEO of Responsibility.org. “We are pleased to partner with GHSA to fill a critical gap. These training grants will prepare law enforcement to detect drug-impaired drivers and make roads safer for us all.”

As seen in the underlying “Drug-Impaired Driving” (pdf) report (updated April 2017):

  • In 2005 drugs were present in 27.8% of the fatally-injured drivers with known test results; this increased to 32.8% in 2009 and (as stated above) 43% in 2015 (page 9)
  • As seen on page 12 of the report, regarding the effects of marijuana on driving:  “In experimental settings, marijuana impairs psychomotor skills and cognitive functions associated with driving, including vigilance, time and distance perception, lane tracking, motor coordination, divided attention tasks, and reaction time (Capler et al., 2017; Compton and Berning, 2015; Hartman and Huestis, 2013; Kelley-Baker, 2014). Drivers may attempt to compensate by driving more slowly and increasing their following distance (Hartman and Huestis, 2013).”

Additional details concerning drug use and impaired driving can be seen in the press release and report [which is also summarized in the April 26, 2017 Washington Post article titled “Drugged driving eclipses drunken driving in tests of motorists killed in crashes“] mentioned above.

Why Drug-Impaired Driving Is Likely Understated

It should be noted that there are many reasons as to why “drugged driving” and the number of vehicle accidents caused by drug-impaired drivers may be understated.  As seen in the CNN article (with video) of April 28, 2017, titled “Drugged driving surpasses drunken driving in deadly crashes, report finds“:

Currently, there are no drug field tests comparable to a preliminary alcohol screening using a breathalyzer. Law enforcement officials are trained to recognize signs of drug impairment and can make the decision to take a driver into custody for further testing.

also:

The report acknowledged that “many officers are not trained to identify the signs and symptoms of drivers impaired by drugs other than alcohol.” The International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offer specialized training courses to teach law enforcement officials how to recognize the behavioral signs of drug impairment, but the courses are not required. Often, a full evaluation cannot be done during a roadside stop.

Other reasons as to why the number of drug-related crashes may be higher than reported is discussed on the NIH page titled “Drugged Driving.”  As mentioned on that page:

It’s hard to measure how many crashes are caused by drugged driving. This is because:

  • a good roadside test for drug levels in the body doesn’t yet exist
  • police don’t usually test for drugs if drivers have reached an illegal blood alcohol level because there’s already enough evidence for a DUI charge
  • many drivers who cause crashes are found to have both drugs and alcohol or more than one drug in their system, making it hard to know which substance had the greater effect

One NHTSA study found that in 2009, 18 percent of drivers killed in a crash tested positive for at least one drug. 9 A 2010 study showed that 11 percent of deadly crashes involved a drugged driver.5

Chicago Area Accidents Involving Drug-Impaired Drivers

There are various notable Chicago area accidents that have involved driving under the influence of drugs.

One such accident happened on April 13, 2017 on Chicago’s Southwest Side.  This fatal accident is described in various media sources, including the April 19, 2017 Chicago Tribune article titled “Prosecutors:  Driver in fatal accident had alcohol, marijuana, cocaine in system” as well as the April 20 Chicago Sun-Times article titled “Man charged with DUI in fatal Southwest Side crash.”  In this accident, the driver allegedly had a blood alcohol contact (BAC) twice the legal limit and also tested positive for cocaine and marijuana.

Another such accident happened on March 29, 2017.  This accident was discussed in the Chicago Sun-Times article of April 2, 2017, titled “Man charged with drugged driving following crash in Riverside” concerning the accident and the driver of the car, Michael Mola, 60, of Oak Brook.  An excerpt from that article:

The investigation revealed that Mola had driven to Berwyn to visit a friend and snorted heroin with his friend’s adult daughter. Mola admitted to snorting the heroin and taking Vicodin that was not prescribed to him, police said.

On December 18, 2016 there was an accident in Prospect Heights, in which a driver allegedly overdosed on heroin and “rear-ended” another car.  According to Prospect Heights Police, the accident happened Sunday at Palatine Road near Milwaukee Avenue.  That accident is further discussed in the December 20, 2016 post titled “Accidents Involving Drug Use By Driver.”

A July 5, 2016 fatal crash in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood also allegedly involved alcohol and drug use by the driver prior to the crash.  That accident is discussed in the July 9, 2016 post titled “Drug Use Before Driving.”  As seen in that post, a woman allegedly was impaired after drinking and drug use (PCP) prior to crashing at a high speed.

Another crash allegedly involving drug use was a fatal car accident in Chicago’s Norwood Park neighborhood on the night of January 18, 2016.  This crash, which is said to involve drinking, pot smoking and the use of muscle relaxers is discussed in the January 21, 2016 Chicago Sun-Times article titled “No bond for driver charged with DUI in fatal NW side crash.”

Illinois Motorcycle Accidents Involving Drug-Impaired Driving 

One such hazard of drug-impaired driving is that other road users, such as motorcyclists and bicyclists, are likely more difficult for the impaired driver to “see” and otherwise safely interact with on the road.

A McHenry County car-motorcycle collision that happened in May 2016 involved a driver who admitted to taking heroin before the fatal crash that happened in McHenry.  The initial accident was summarized in the post of May 6, 2016 titled “Motorcycle Crash In McHenry, Illinois.” [note:  the motorcycle’s passenger died 9 days after the collision.]  Subsequent details regarding the crash and the injuries sustained – as well as the car driver’s admission of heroin use and sentencing – can be seen in the July 5, 2017 Chicago Tribune article titled “Woman who caused fatal crash after taking heroin gets 16 years in prison.”  The Northwest Herald article of April 30, 2017, titled “Woman charged in crash that killed Woodstock mom pleads guilty to aggravated DUI,” also discusses the fatal crash and its aftermath.

Another Illinois fatal car-motorcycle collision that happened in Springfield allegedly involved the driver being under the influence of medications.  Two excerpts from the sj-r.com article of May 9, 2017, titled “Multiple DUIs for Springfield woman charged in fatal accident“:

Doris D. Fisher, 46, of the 400 block of West Cook Street was arrested on suspicion of DUI after the accident on North Dirksen Parkway about 1:50 a.m. Saturday.

also:

Fisher was under the influence of prescription medications at the time of the crash, the sheriff’s office said. She was also cited for driving without insurance and failing to yield at an intersection.

An earlier fatal motorcycle accident in which a driver was charged with DUI-Drugs is seen in the 2011 fatal motorcycle accident in Ingleside.  This accident was summarized in the September 15, 2011 post titled “Motorist Charged With DUI-Drugs In Fatal Ingleside Illinois Motorcycle Accident Of August 27.”

Should You Be Injured By A Drug-Impaired Driver  

As seen in many Illinois motorcycle accidents, motorcyclists and passengers who have been injured in crashes often have serious accident injuries.  While there is a broad range of serious – and possibly fatal injuries – that result from such collisions – especially those involving motorcyclist ejections – among the most serious injuries are those that involve head trauma.  Brain injuries resulting from crashes are further discussed on the “Head Injuries Resulting From Motorcycle Accidents” and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) And Concussions” pages.

In accidents where injuries were the fault of another person or entity, many people seek compensation through the filing of a personal injury lawsuit.  This is especially likely in accident injuries involving long-term impairments and other types of permanent injuries.  For those accidents in which someone has died due to negligence or intentional acts of another person or party, it may be appropriate to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Depending upon the characteristics of an accident, there are many types of expenses that can be incurred from any resulting injuries and permanent impairments.  Typically, medical bills may be (very) high, especially if the injured person does not have health insurance to pay for medical bills.  Even for those people who have insurance, bills can be substantial, as many aspects of medical care, including diagnostic tests, medical procedures, surgeries, and various types of rehabilitation tend to be expensive.  Further increasing out-of-pocket medical costs are:

  • insurance deductibles
  • medical costs that aren’t covered by insurance
  • paramedic and ambulance fees, if applicable

Given these medical costs – as well as other direct and indirect costs discussed below – compensation sought in these lawsuits can include many different types.  Compensation types can include (but are not limited to) that for:

  • Medical costs (past, current and future)
  • Pain and suffering
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of function
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of consortium
  • Other economic damages

The Elman Law Group, Illinois personal injury trial lawyers, can provide an overview as to what types of compensation – as well as what amounts – may be reasonably expected given the specific characteristics of the accident, the injuries, and the overall legal and medical situations.

If you were injured in an accident, call Tony Elman, Lead Trial Attorney at the Elman Law Group, at (773) 392-8182 to discuss the accident and see what legal actions – including the filing of a lawsuit – may be appropriate.  This discussion is provided free of charge and is confidential in nature.

Elman Law Group, LLC has been handling Illinois personal injury cases for 25+ years, and during this time has handled over 10,000 personal injury cases.  Through this extensive experience, the Elman Law Group has built a reputation for its court trial performance.  As seen in many of its cases, this successful trial experience may (substantially) increase potential accident injury compensation.

Elman Law Group, LLC handles cases on a “contingency” basis…clients are not charged legal fees unless and until they get money.