If you were nauseous, had a throbbing headache, debilitating weakness, lack of focus and sensitivity to light, should you be operating heavy machinery? I think not! However, if staying alive isn’t enough of a reason to make sure you’re sober enough to get behind the wheel, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey added another incentive — a DUI for driving with a hangover.
The court recently extended the class of persons considered “under the influence” to include not only those in whom drugs are active, but also those suffering from drug hangovers. This means that even if drugs no longer remain in your bloodstream, you could still be arrested for driving under the influence. In my view, prohibiting post-partyers from cruising the streets furthers the purpose of drunk-driving sanctions — keeping dangerous drivers off the road.
The case of Franchetta, a 46-year-old businessman, sparked the imposition of this new law. Cops pulled him over after speeding and crossing the road’s center line. Officers described him as sluggish, disjointed and having slurred speech. After failing a series of sobriety tests, cops took Franchetta to a local hospital for a blood test. His tests indicated that he was no longer high, but rather that he was “crashing.” In other words, he had a hangover. Cocaine only remains in the bloodstream for a few hours after ingestion, so although Franchetta had no cocaine left in his blood, tests revealed traces of benzolectamine, a metabolite of cocaine, confirming earlier intake. The court reasoned that although the cocaine was inactive, it was the “proximate cause of his impaired behavior.” Accordingly, the court found Franchetta guilty of driving “under the influence”— not because he was high, but because he was impaired due to his cocaine hangover. The court suspended his license for two years and sentenced him to 30 days of community service.
“Under the influence” has traditionally been defined as when a substance is pharmacologically active in a person’s system. The New Jersey court clearly has expanded this law’s reach. The defense argues that the court’s newly expanded definition is too liberal and plans to appeal on grounds that conviction under the law requires the drug be active in order to constitute "under the influence."
I agree with the appellate court and believe that the laws for driving “under the influence” should be expanded in order to force drivers to critically consider their sobriety before getting behind the wheel. People should always consider their driving capabilities — even after the “high” has worn off. All this law really does is formalize that objective; extending the law will deter party animals from getting behind the wheel unless they’re absolutely certain they’ve sobered up. The worst that can happen from the law’s new broad reach? Drivers will have to pause for a moment and make sure that they’re really sober before operating heavy machinery? Call me crazy, but that doesn’t seem outlandish.
Critics of the law’s expansion argue that this holding will lead to incessant liability for drivers, allowing the state to criminalize anything that impairs one’s driving ability the smallest bit. They say the opinion is too open ended with no guidance as to where to draw the line. They think this will open the floodgates leading to criminalization for driving with unavoidable daily nuisances, such as migraines, or even allergies. But these arguments fall flat — nowhere in the opinion does the court leave room for interpretation beyond the holding. The opinion is limited to drug hangovers. The assistant prosecutor of Cape May County explained that the ruling would not likely be extended to even alcohol hangovers, let alone anything else since the after-effects from the two are quite different.
However, I would go so far as to say that the law should be expanded to prohibit driving with hangovers from alcohol. That’s just the next logical step. Someone whose reflexes are as severely impaired from an alcohol hangover as they would be from a drug hangover should be kept off the road — they are just not safe.
According to statistics of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2005, 43,443 people died in traffic accidents. A disturbing 39 percent of those deaths (that’s 16,885 people!) were alcohol related. Expanding the meaning of “under the influence” would make everyone more cautious before getting behind the wheel. Including hangovers within the meaning of being ‘under the influence’ would resolve a gray area and answer the question many partygoers ask: whether chugging a cup of coffee or taking a nap is enough to purge the drugs or alcohol from their system so that they can legally get behind the wheel. Fortifying the meaning of ‘under the influence’ would settle this debate once and for all.
Tonight when your kids are out driving with their friends and you’re considering whether you think this law is a good idea, remember that according to a 2005 study, there is one alcohol-related fatality every 31 minutes and one alcohol related injury approximately every two minutes.
So, although the laws thus far have only been expanded in Jersey, criminalizing driving with a drug hangover is a step in the right direction. We gain nothing from allowing people to drive the moment the drug or alcohol doesn’t show up on sobriety tests. Breathalyzers and blood tests shouldn’t be the only way to detect impairment. Even though blowing a high score on a breathalyzer certainly proves intoxication, falling short of such a score does not mean you’re sober. So whether you have the “I shouldn’t have mixed hangover” or the “I shouldn’t have gone out” hangover, you shouldn’t get behind the wheel with any hangover!
Sources:• More facts and background story NJ Criminalizes Driving While drowsy
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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.