Florida legislators are trying to reduce drunk driving car accidents. A law recently introduced by Senator Lori Berman (D-Boca Raton) and Representative Joe Casello (D-Boynton Beach) in the form of SB 448 and HB 549, which, if passed, would bring Florida’s drug-impaired driving laws in line with the majority of other states. This would close some major gaps in the state’s DUI and BUI (Boating Under the Influence) laws, as Florida currently has some of the weakest regulations on the matter in the nation.
Driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol is becoming an increasing danger on Florida roadways. The number of traffic fatalities in Florida in 2021 reached a record high of 3,740, which is a dramatic 56% surge since 2013. It is estimated that around 40% of these fatalities were caused by drunk driving car accidents.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a 2020 study that revealed that in accidents leaving drivers severely or fatally injured, 33% tested positive for cannabinoids, 14% for opioids, 9% for sedatives, and 9% for stimulants. This problem is especially prevalent in Florida, as data were collected from two sites in Jacksonville and Miami.
Drunk Driving Car Accidents in Florida
The legislators say current Florida law does not adequately address the issue of drivers under the influence of legal, prescribed, and over-the-counter drugs, as well as designer drugs. This has resulted in 37% of drug-impaired driving cases in 2022 involving non-controlled substances. Additionally, this law does not allow judges to issue warrants for blood tests in misdemeanor cases, meaning that defendants can pick and choose which evidence is used against them in DUI cases.
SB 448 and HB 549 are aiming to improve the definition of drug-impaired driving and boating by expanding the current statute to include “or any other impairing substance or a combination thereof,” and providing judges with the authorization to authorize warrants for blood tests in DUI cases, thus enabling prosecutors to have more options available to deal with drug-impaired drivers and help prevent drunk driving car accidents.
Impaired and Drunk Driving Accidents
This law does not mean that more people will be arrested; an officer or deputy still requires probable cause to detain an individual driving while impaired. It only makes Florida’s DUI and BUI laws more stringent, allowing prosecutors to take action against drivers impaired by whatever drug is causing the impairment. Additionally, it safeguards those taking medications as prescribed or by the FL medical marijuana statute, by offering an “affirmative defense”.
Senator Berman declared that Florida has a significant gap in its laws that allows people to elude prosecution for driving while impaired. He emphasized that SB 448 and HB 549 would plug the gap and ensure all drivers are protected by seeing that those who cause drunk driving car accidents are prosecuted.
Joe Casello, a representative, expressed his pride in sponsoring legislation in the Florida House that makes sense. He went on to say that his experience as a firefighter had exposed him to the tragic results of drunk driving and that it was time to fill the gaps in the legal system.
MADD and the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association have both endorsed bills generated by the Toxicology Lab in Palm Beach County, with numerous other organizations likely to follow suit. Larry Coggins, MADD’s Florida Regional Executive Director, has expressed his full backing for the bill, which is aimed at improving traffic safety and better tackling cases of impaired driving. As he said, “MADD is wholeheartedly behind this bill, on behalf of the almost one million victims of drunk driving car accidents we have helped.”
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, talk to an Orlando car accident attorney at the Martinez Manglardi personal injury law firm. Call 866-730-3508 for a free consultation. Convenient locations throughout Central Florida.