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World & Nation

Tiger Woods appears unsteady, disoriented in police dash-cam video of DUI arrest

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

It’s possible to be charged with a DUI in Florida without taking a single sip of alcohol. Tiger Woods proved that this week when he blew a .000 and still ended up behind bars.

Jupiter police on Wednesday released a dashcam video showing Woods taking sobriety tests. Woods told officers he had not been drinking, but had taken medication.

In the temperate eyes of state law, driving on drugs — be they prescription or otherwise — is equivalent to driving drunk.

“You just have to remember when you have taken these prescriptions, if you’re impaired you’re impaired, whether it’s alcohol or drugs,” said Sgt. Mark Wysocky, Florida Highway Patrol spokesperson.

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It is difficult however to measure impairment and harder to get a conviction, especially in the case of prescription drugs.

  • A good roadside test doesn’t exist for drug testing, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  • Unlike a breathalyzer, drug testing doesn’t prove a driver was impaired behind the wheel.
  • In Florida, there are no legally defined levels of drugs that say a person was impaired.

Defending a drug DUI

Police woke up Woods in Jupiter on Monday as he sat behind the wheel of his black Mercedes-Benz, which had two flat tires, damaged rims and bumpers, scrape marks on the driver’s side, and a tail light that appeared to be out, police said.

After failing a series of field sobriety tests, Woods, 41, was charged with a DUI.

In this handout photo provided by The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, golfer Tiger Woods is seen in a police booking photo after his arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence on May 29, 2017 in Jupiter, Florida.
(Hanodut / Getty Images)
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Shortly after the arrest, Woods put out a statement saying he had an “unexpected reaction” to medication. Those medications included Vicodin, an opiate-based pain reliever.

The statement could be used as a legal and public relations defense, said Robert Buschel, a Fort Lauderdale defense criminal attorney.

“It’s subtly says I’m taking medication for a known injury that I have. I’m following a doctors prescription. I did not purposefully endanger myself or others,” Buschel said.

With alcohol, an officer can see if a driver is impaired using a breathalyzer or blood test. Drugs add another layer of complexity, doctor-prescribed drugs even more so, he said.

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An attorney could argue “involuntary intoxication,” Buschel said.

“I followed my doctor’s advice, I took the proper dosage at the proper time and I wasn’t told not to drive,” is an example of a legal defense that could be used for prescription drugs, he said.

Woods’ actions — slurred speech, lethargy, wobbling — are consistent with Vicodin intoxication, said Dr. Teri Stockham, former chief toxicologist for Broward County.

While it’s not known how much he was prescribed or in what dosage, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the driver to make the decision to get behind the wheel, she said.

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“Typically you don’t want the side effects to be so severe that you have to pull over to the side of the road and can’t drive. If he had been taking it for any length of time he should know how it affects him,” Stockham said.

What the data say

It’s not clear how common drugged driving is compared to drunk driving.

That’s because data from state highway patrol and the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office doesn’t distinguish between DUI arrests for drugs vs. alcohol.

However, Florida does keep track of drug-involved crashes.

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Drugs were suspected in nearly 2,000 accidents across Florida in 2015, but they were only confirmed in 557 cases, according to latest data from the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles department.

At the same time, there were 16,400 crashes suspected of involving alcohol and 5,522 confirmed, 2015 records show.

Across the country, more drivers appear to have drugs in their systems during fatal crashes than they did a decade ago.

Two years ago, 21 percent of the 32,166 fatal crashes in the U.S. involved a driver who tested positive for at least one drug, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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That’s up from 12 percent of the 39,252 fatal accidents a decade earlier, according to the organization.


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