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Accidents Caused by a Drunk Driver

Car Accidents Caused by Drunk or Impaired Drivers

Despite New Hampshire’s efforts to keep drunk drivers off the road, the high number of OUIs and accidents related to drunk or impaired driving continues to plague the State. Part of the reason is that many people still believe it is acceptable to have “a couple of drinks” and get behind the wheel. The fact of the matter is that even a slight amount of alcohol or sedating drug significantly increases the likelihood that a person will cause an accident. Numerous research studies have shown that just one drink significantly delays reaction time, time that can be critical when a driver is required to make split-second decisions. Likewise, one drink has been shown to effect a driver’s judgment, making the driver less inhibited and/or more aggressive. Slight changes in a motorist’s ability to react quickly or in his/her judgment can and unfortunately does have disastrous effects. Thousands of people are killed each years due to impaired driving.

The following signs may indicate that someone is driving while intoxicated on alcohol or drugs:

  • Driving too slowly
  • Straddling two lanes
  • Closely following car
  • Unexplained swerving
  • Frequent starts and stops
  • Drifting into another lane
  • Driving on the wrong side
  • Falling asleep at the wheel
New Hampshire Law on Accidents Caused by Drunk or Impaired Driving

New Hampshire criminal statute 265-A:2 prohibits anyone 21 or older from driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher (.02 or higher for licensed drivers younger than 21). Because there are many other drugs than alcohol that can impair one’s ability to drive, the statute also includes a broad provision that addresses impaired driving due to drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol: “No person shall drive or attempt to drive a vehicle upon any way or operate or attempt to operate a [motor vehicle] [w]hile such person is under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any controlled drug, prescription drug, over-the-counter drug, or any other chemical substance, natural or synthetic, which impairs a person's ability to drive or any combination of intoxicating liquor and controlled drugs, prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, or any other chemical substances, natural or synthetic, which impair a person's ability to drive…”

The criminal laws are applicable to personal injury cases only if a motorist is found to have violated the law, in which case the evidence of that criminal conviction (or plea) would be admissible to show negligence. It is important to understand that, even if a driver has not violated the criminal laws, any amount of alcohol in a driver’s system is evidence of the driver’s failure to exercise reasonable care under the civil tort (personal injury) laws. The same goes for illegal drugs or prescription medications that impair reaction time or judgment—operating a motor vehicle under the influence of any drug that adversely effects a driver’s ability to react quickly, perceive distances and speed accurately, or make wise decisions will be strong evidence in support of a negligence claim. Pretty much any drug that warns “do not operate heavy machinery” will adversely impact a driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle and will be evidence to support a negligence claim for damages caused by the impaired driver’s actions.

The effects of alcohol on a person’s ability to drive safely have been researched extensively. There is far less research on the effects of marijuana and prescription medications on reaction time, etc. in the context of driving, however. More recently, with marijuana’s legalization in many areas of the country, researchers have begun to focus more intensively on the effects of marijuana use on driving.

The challenges of proving that marijuana and/or prescription medication use were factors in causing an accident are illustrated in a recent case our firm handled. Because the officer who arrived at the accident scene smelled marijuana on the defendant driver, he made the driver undergo a field sobriety test, which he just barely passed. So, while the defendant driver was not charged with OUI, he was clearly impaired to some degree. At deposition, the defendant admitted that, in addition to having smoke marijuana, he took NyQuil a few hours before the accident (apparently recreationally, since he wasn’t sick). Despite being under the influence of marijuana and NyQuil, the defendant claimed that his ability to drive safely was not impaired. To address this claim, we hired an expert toxicologist to provide an opinion about whether and to what degree these two drugs would have impacted the defendant’s ability to see and react to our client who was walking along the side of the road with his wife in twilight conditions. The expert calculated the decrease in reaction time for each of the drugs and also determined that the two drugs have what is called a “synergistic effect,” with each magnifying the effect of the other. As the expert put it, “When you smoke pot and drink NyQuil, the effect isn’t 1+1=2. The effect is 1+1=4.” There were other experts who had critical input in that case, but, to make a long story short, their combined input enabled our firm to undermine the defendant’s claim that he was able to drive safely and successfully resolve the case for our clients.

Peter Thompson & Associates: Justice for Victims of Drunk Driving Accidents

If you or a loved one has been injured by a drunk driver, contact Peter Thompson & Associates today. We have offices throughout New Hampshire and will come to your home or the hospital if you have difficulty getting around or are unable to come to us. To speak with one of our attorneys, call 800.804.2004 or fill out the online contact form.