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Drugs surpass alcohol in fatal Tennessee DUI crashes

Both alcohol and drugs can impair someone's ability to drive. However, there is a general perception that drinking leads to more accidents on U.S. roadways. Recent data from Tennessee Highway Patrol shows that drugs now account for more fatal car crashes than alcohol in the state.

Drugged driving was a factor in 174 auto accident fatalities in Tennessee in 2015. Drunk driving accounted for 136 traffic deaths, while distracted driving was a factor in 51 car accident fatalities. Traffic accident fatalities had been on the decline in the state. However, there has been an increase in 2016. Drug-related car accident deaths have been on the rise since 2010.

The drugs often involved in DUI cases are prescription medications. Tennessee has one of the highest rates in the country for opioid painkiller prescriptions. The problem, referred to as Tennessee's opioid epidemic, has been declared the state's number one public health crisis. Opioid prescription rates have fallen in the past three years but still remain high.

Laws are sketchy when it comes to drug-impaired driving. While there is a clearly defined legal blood alcohol limit in all states, there are currently no legal limits for any other drugs. When a driver in Tennessee is stopped on suspicion of DUI, a blood test may be mandatory under certain circumstances, such as when there is a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle. If alcohol content is below the limit but drugs are found in the driver's blood system, they could be charged with DUI.

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