This article is from an interview with Utah DUI defense attorney Jason Schatz. This portion talks about some trends in DUI awareness in Utah.
Interviewer: Of the alcohol-related DUIs you see, are people truly drunk, or are a lot of them close to the 0.08 limit?
Attorney Schatz: I encounter both extremes. At least a small percentage of the population is being more cautious about their alcohol consumption. We see a decent percentage of cases that are just slightly above the legal limit, anywhere from 0.08 to 0.10. It’s truly very difficult for the average person to make a determination as to if they are above 0.08 or not. Most people who are at a 0.08 are not experiencing the common symptoms of what we refer to as intoxication or feeling drunk. They’re not speaking funny, their balance isn’t off significantly, they don’t feel intoxicated, even though their blood alcohol level may have just crossed over that 0.08 limit. It’s very difficult for people to identify whether or not they’re safe to be driving.
Then, we obviously have a small percentage of people who imbibe way too much. I think in those situations, what happens is, they consume so much alcohol that their judgment is significantly impaired, and then they make terrible decisions to get behind the wheel, just because they’re not thinking clearly having consumed far too much alcohol.
Alcohol vs. Drug DUIs
Interviewer: What’s the ratio in terms of alcohol-related DUIs versus prescription and illegal drug-related DUIs?
Attorney Schatz: Ten years ago, I would say that the much greater percentage of charges were alcohol-related DUIs. I would say at this point, probably 50% of the cases we handle are alcohol-related only, and the other 50% either involve a combination of alcohol and either illegal drugs or prescription drugs, and maybe 20% involve only prescription drugs.
As law enforcement has become more aware of impairment due to drug use and as they’ve ramped up enforcement and training and detecting drivers who are impaired from prescription drugs, there’s been a pretty dramatic increase in the number of arrests. Also, I think there’s unfortunately a lot of bias with the officers. They begin a drug-related DUI investigation the minute somebody is pulled over for a violation or if they’re even involved in a minor car accident, the minute that person admits to the officer that they’ve taken a prescription medication. Factually, a great percentage of the population takes some sort of prescription drug every single day as prescribed by a doctor. But the minute you advise an officer that you’ve taken a prescription, they just immediately assume that you’re being impaired by that drug and that’s what caused either the traffic infraction or the accident.
Interviewer: Have people gotten more sophisticated at understanding that this is going to happen, or they don’t realize that prescription drugs and illegal drugs combined with driving can result in a DUI?
Attorney Schatz: I think most people honestly don’t realize that even if they’re taking the drug as prescribed by a doctor that does not insulate them from getting a DUI. Just because it’s prescribed doesn’t necessarily give them permission to drive if it’s a prescription that may impair their ability to drive. This is particularly true with people who take combinations of drugs, such as pain medications and muscle relaxers because they’ve had back surgery or people who are experiencing a lot of depression or anxiety, so they’re taking a different cocktail of prescription drugs to deal with those mental health issues. They don’t understand the effects of the drug. This is because, I believe, the doctors aren’t doing their job inadequately advising these people that, just because your doctor prescribes it doesn’t mean you cannot be the subject of a DUI. The interaction between the different drugs or just even consuming a small amount of alcohol on top of their normal prescription drugs can certainly have an impairing effect under some circumstances. I think the effects sneak up on people, and they don’t realize that until it’s too late.