MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Driving under the influence of alcohol is obviously illegal, but countless people get away with driving high in the state of New York because of a loophole.
CBS2’s Alex Denis investigated the phenomenon of the legal DUI Wednesday night.
Imagine if someone lying on the street and out of it from drugs were to get behind the wheel of a car, in what Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas deemed “a condition we can only describe as zombies.”
They are so high on drugs that their driving would certainly be impaired. But shockingly, it would not be against the law.
“They could be next to you on the LIE. They could be next to you on the Northern State Parkway, in that condition, and we couldn’t charge them with a crime,” Singas said.
How is this possible? Most states in the country have a blanket law that if a person is not in a condition to drive safely, they can be arrested and charged.
But in New York, an officer not only has to determine what drug the driver ingested, but that drug must also be on the state’s very specific banned substance list.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Singas said.
What’s worse, chemists in China and Mexico are constantly tweaking the formula of illegal drugs — including marijuana and fentanyl, to make them legal – Singas said.
“A chemist can alter it one molecule — now it’s no longer on the list,” Singas said.
The best examples of this are K2, Spice, and synthetic forms of ecstasy and Molly.
“Of course it’s upsetting,” said Steve Chassman, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence or LICADD.
“We have never been more busy in the last five years as a result of the opioid crises,” Chassman said. “We thought we were turning the corner on this. These derivatives are a new dimension in the fight.”
Tatiana Green is a recovering addict.
“Thank God I didn’t kill anyone behind the wheel,” she said.
Green says stiffer penalties would certainly have kept her off the road, and she believes it will do the same for others.
“Sometimes people go to jail and they say: ‘Oh no, I’m not living this life. Get rid of that loophole,’” Green said.
“The time has come,” Singas added.
Singas said for 10 years, her office has been trying to pass legislation creating the same standard used for a person driving drunk.
“We would rely on a police officer to tell us, ‘I observed his eyes and they were watery, he had slurred speech, he was unsteady on his feet, he wasn’t making sense,’” Singas said. “The same test should be applied to drugged driving.”
This legislation is currently pending before both houses of the New York State Legislature.
Singas asks if you’re in favor of the proposed law, contact your local representative and demand New York catch up with the rest of the country.