Pot and pills the new choice for intoxicated drivers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has just released two reports saying there are fewer drunk drivers on the road, but that doesn't necessarily mean the streets are safer.

According to the reports, those drunk drivers are being replaced by drivers high on marijuana or prescription drugs.

So far this year, Florida has tallied 298 crashes involving drugs such as prescription pills or marijuana, 30 of those crashes taking place in Duval County.

One of them, in Jacksonville, was less than a week ago when Corey Jones crashed into a convenience store where customers were shopping.

Jones openly told police he was quote, "messed up," and had taken four ecstasy hits.

A woman and her two children were inside the store at the time but luckily no one was injured.

Although the number of inebriated drivers has declined by almost a third since 2007, a 2014 voluntary survey shows nearly 1 in 4 drivers tested positive for a drug that endangered them or others.

The numbers show a significant rise, jumping from 16.3 percent in 2007 to 20 percent of weekend nighttime drivers in 2014, while drivers with marijuana in their system soared by almost 50 percent.

"Everybody processes alcohol or controlled substances differently but it's the fact where you reach the ability or inability to safely operate a motor vehicle is when impairment comes into question," says Sgt. Dylan Bryan with the Florida Highway Patrol.

And according to Bryan, it's not just recreational use contributing to the problem. A big issue in Duval County is people who take medicine and don't pay attention to the side effects and dangers behind the wheel.

"Just because you have a prescription doesn't mean you can take it however you want you have to follow that doctor's orders," explains Sgt. Bryan.

Sgt. Bryan went on to say that Florida had 3494 drug involved crashes last year, 264 were in Duval County.

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers are also getting involved. They've just changed their mission statement earlier this year to include other substances, not just alcohol.

According to Jill Leslie from Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, "driving under the influence no longer just means alcohol it includes a variety of drugs prescription and over the counter as well."

Jill went on to say that about 25 percent of all impaired driving incidents involve drugs and sometimes a combination of alcohol and drugs.

Some drugs even have a greater effect after drinking which could cause dangers on the road.

"The bottom line for us is anything that can put your life or anyone else's life in danger when driving needs to be deeply considered and avoided at all possibility," pleads Jill.

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Lifetime Floridian anchors weekends and reports weekdays on issues in Nassau and Baker counties and beyond.