Dry DUI: WAFF 48 Special Report

By Monica Rix - bio | email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one person is killed every 45 minutes in an alcohol-related crash and last year, DUI wrecks accounted for about 32-percent of crashes across the country.

But local law enforcement said it's not just alcohol that's the problem. Chances are, if you get behind the wheel intoxicated and get pulled over, you will be arrested for driving under the influence, whether or not you've been drinking.

"Whether it's driving under the influence of alcohol, or driving under the influence of a narcotic, it's all the same thing," said Sgt. Jeffery Rice. He's head of the Huntsville Police DUI traffic task force, a group that started in the early 80s and is still working to keep impaired drivers off the streets.

HPD sets up checkpoints twice a month, in what they call 'DUI hotspots', all over the city. They're areas where wrecks are common and, on a typical night, they arrest an average of five people driving under the influence.

During their most recent traffic checkpoint, task force members arrested four people for DUI within the first hour. But these days, Sgt. Rice says DUIs aren't just for drunks.

"Nowadays, we have an increased use of pills, marijuana, cocaine, MDMA, which the street name of that is ecstasy, and people are mixing those substances along with alcohol," he said.

But even though it's just as dangerous and illegal, Rice said, surprisingly, some people aren't shy about admitting they've used drugs, especially marijuana.

"There have been some occasions where we've stopped individuals who have been smoking marijuana and you can readily smell it in the vehicle. And they admit that they've been smoking marijuana. Some people feel that there's nothing wrong with smoking it. Marijuana, in the state of Alabama, is illegal. In the United States, it is illegal," said Rice.

Still, officials said drugged driving is a growing trend.

Last year alone, HPD arrested more than a thousand people for DUI and nearly 50 of those drivers were arrested for drug use. Police expect those numbers to grow as steps to legalize drugs like marijuana are made across the country.

But even legal drugs can be a problem behind the wheel.

"It impairs the ability to respond and that's the concern," said Dr. Tim Howard. Howard has been a physician in North Alabama for nearly two decades and said over-the-counter medications, like Benadryl or Nyquil, can also cause major impairment issues for drivers. Drugs like marijuana can also have lasting effects.

"Literally, one joint can stay in your body up to 30 days. It is not wise for anyone to take a mind-altering substance and get behind the wheel of a car, period," said Howard.

Despite impaired drivers' best attempts to dodge them, HPD said they'll find impaired drivers and won't hesitate to make a DUI arrest no matter what's causing the impairment.

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