As you may have seen in the news, early on May 29th, golf superstar Tiger Woods was arrested in Florida on suspicion of DUI. Woods was found asleep at the wheel, with his vehicle’s engine running and a blinker flashing, idling in the right lane of a street in Palm Beach County. Woods claimed that he did not know where he was, and he asked the police how far he was from his home. Although he failed field sobriety tests, and the police said that his speech was slurred, Woods had not been drinking. His breathalyzer test result was 0.00 percent.

Woods has admitted that he is taking medications following back surgery. He was taken to a Palm Beach County jail and released on his own recognizance. His arraignment is scheduled for July 7th. An agreement will probably be reached, and Woods will probably not be put on trial for driving under the influence in Florida. To convict Woods of a DUI charge in Florida, the prosecutor there must prove that Woods was driving a vehicle – meaning that he was steering and controlling the vehicle while it was moving – and that he was, at the same time, under the influence of alcohol, another drug, or a combination of the two.

WHAT ARE FLORIDA’S DUI PENALTIES? WHAT ARE CALIFORNIA’S?

In the state of Florida, a first DUI conviction is typically penalized with a fine from $500 to $1,000 along with probation, community service, and possibly time in jail, vehicle impoundment, and/or court-ordered installation of an ignition interlock device. But what if Tiger Woods had been arrested and charged with driving under the influence here in California? As a first-time offender charged with misdemeanor DUI, the penalties for a conviction could include:

  • three to five years probation
  • a $390 to $1000 fine
  • court-ordered alcohol education classes or treatment
  • a driver’s license suspension ranging from thirty days to ten months
  • court-ordered installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) on the offender’s vehicle in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Tulare, and Alameda counties – and statewide starting in 2019

In all fifty states, in DUI cases like the Tiger Woods case, it’s usually difficult for a prosecutor to convict someone if prescription medications were involved. Unlike alcohol’s effect, which is measurable at various levels of intoxication, it’s hard to determine the degree to which someone’s driving abilities are affected by other drugs. Still, any driver impaired by prescription medicines can be convicted and penalized for DUI if that driver exhibited behaviors like weaving in traffic, reckless driving, delayed reactions, or disobeying traffic signals.

Early in June, Woods announced that he is entering rehabilitation for addiction to prescription pills. Reportedly, Woods believes that he could lose joint custody of his two children to his ex-wife, Elin Nordegren. Woods was treated for sex addiction in 2009 and he also went to rehab in 2010 for an addiction to Vicodin and Ambien. The 14-time major champion had back surgery in April.

HOW HAS DRUGGED DRIVING INCREASED? WHAT ARE THE NUMBERS?

Tiger Woods is one of the thousands – and possibly millions – in the United States who struggle with a dependency on prescription painkillers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tells us that the number of drivers who test positive for prescription drugs after being involved in fatal traffic accidents has almost doubled in the last decade.

In 2015, at least one driver tested positive for drugs in 21 percent of the more than 30,000 deadly traffic crashes in the U.S. that year, according to the NHTSA. The percentage of traffic fatalities tied to drugged driving has increased in fourteen of the last fifteen years.

Among those age 65 and above in the United States, nearly half of the men and about two-thirds of the women are using more than one prescription drug. Those who drive can take several steps to avoid negative reactions and dangerous situations like driving under the influence. Talk to your pharmacist about problematic drug interactions and avoiding bad combinations.

If you see different specialists, have a talk with your primary doctor to sort out the medications you are using. Organize your medicine, and keep it locked. You have the ability to avoid dangerous and tragic results from using prescription drugs.

Statistics tell us that the number of traffic accidents involving drugged driving is still far below the number for drunk driving, which plays a role in over 30 percent of all traffic deaths every year in the U.S. While the impact of alcohol on a driver’s abilities has been studied exhaustively, the available information about drugged driving is far from comprehensive.

This much, however, is sure; any California driver who is impaired by any drug can be arrested and charged with DUI or with DUID, driving under the influence of drugs. That driver will then need to contact an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer at once.

WHAT IS A DRUG RECOGNITION EVALUATOR?

When a police officer in California stops a driver in traffic and believes the driver may be impaired by drugs, the officer can call a Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) to the scene. DREs are law enforcement officers who have been trained to spot driver impairment. In California, when a DRE determines that a motorist is under the influence of drugs, that motorist will be taken into custody and charged with DUID.

If a DUID case goes to trial, the DRE will appear as a witness for the prosecution, so a defendant must be represented by an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer. If you are the person who is charged with DUID, do not attempt to act as your own attorney – too much is at risk. The punishment for a DUID conviction is the same as the punishment for a driving under the influence conviction in California.

Thus, if you even suspect that any prescriptions you are currently taking might impair your ability to drive safely, have those discussions as soon as possible with your doctor and pharmacist, and if you must drive, ask someone to drive you, or call a taxi or a ride service. Don’t forget to always drive safely and defensively. Drugged driving is on the increase in our state, and it’s a growing risk to everyone who travels on California’s highways and boulevards.