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Tiger Woods, Driving Under the Influence

Clinically Reviewed By Dan Schimmel, LCSW, CAP
Updated On

tiger-woods-duiWho is Tiger Woods? Is he one of the best professional golfers of all time? Yes. Was his mug shot on nearly every major media outlet the day after Memorial Day this year? Yes. Unfortunately for Mr. Woods, he’s currently getting the most attention for the latter. For those that aren’t aware, Tiger Woods was arrested in Jupiter, Florida on May 29th, 2017 due to suspicion of driving under the influence after he was discovered by police asleep at the wheel with apparent damage to his 2015 Mercedes-Benz. Tiger’s car had several indicators that he had been driving recklessly as two of his tires were flat and multiple areas on the body of his car had damage. It was reported that he appeared confused and disoriented, which was proven through roadside testing.

While all of the details have not been released about Tiger’s state-of-mind, we do know that he was administered a breathalyzer and registered a 0.00 blood-alcohol content. So, what happened? Tiger reports that he had an “unexpected reaction to prescription medications” following recent fusion surgery in his back. The initial speculation from critics was that Tiger was passed out behind the wheel due to alcohol. It wasn’t much of a stretch for eager critics and the like considering in 2004 31% of vehicular deaths were alcohol-related. Additionally, in the same year, 1.1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

What does it mean to be charged with Driving Under the Influence?

Let’s back up a bit and take a minute to define what it means to drive under the influence in the state of Florida. According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, driving under the influence (DUI) is defined as:

Proved by impairment of normal faculties or unlawful blood alcohol or breath alcohol level of .08 or above.

Since Tiger blew a 0.00 on the breathalyzer and outside of the apparent damage to his car, there are additional ways to determine if a driver is too impaired to operate a motor vehicle. Considering an officer cannot force a driver to blow into a breathalyzer, which comes with its own separate penalties, varying by state, an officer can administer a field sobriety test. As indicated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a field sobriety test can be administered by the responding officer using the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, walk and turn test and the one-leg stand test. The particulars of each test are defined below:

  1. The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test: Horizontal gaze nystagmus is an involuntary jerking of the eyeball which occurs as the eyes gaze to the side. Under normal circumstances, nystagmus occurs when the eyes are rotated at high peripheral angles. However, when a person is impaired by alcohol, nystagmus is exaggerated and may occur at lesser angles. An alcohol impaired person will also often have difficulty smoothly tracking a moving object. In the HGN test, the officer observes the eyes of a suspect as the suspect follows a slowly moving object such as a pen or small flashlight, horizontally with his eyes. The examiner looks for three indicators of impairment in each eye: if the eye cannot follow a moving object smoothly, if jerking is distinct and sustained nystagmus when the eye is at maximum deviation, or if the angle of onset of jerking is prior to 45 degrees of center. The subject is likely to have a BAC of 0.08 or greater if, between the two eyes, four or more clues appear. A 1998 validation study found that this test allows proper classification of approximately 88 percent of subjects. HGN may also indicate consumption of seizure medications, phencyclidine, a variety of inhalants, barbiturates, and other depressants.
  2. In the walk-and-turn test, the subject is directed to take nine steps, touching heel-to-toe, along a straight line. After taking the steps, the suspect must turn on one foot and return in the same manner in the opposite direction. The examiner looks for eight indicators of impairment: if the suspect cannot keep balance while listening to the instructions, begins before the instructions are finished, stops while walking to regain balance, does not touch heel-to-toe, uses arms to balance, steps off the line, takes an incorrect number of steps, or makes an improper turn. A 1998 validation study found that 79 percent of individuals who exhibit two or more indicators in the performance of the test will have a BAC of 0.08 or greater.
  3. In the one-leg stand test, the subject is instructed to stand with one foot approximately six inches off the ground and count aloud by ones beginning with one thousand (one thousand-one, one thousand-two, etc.) until told to put the foot down. The officer times the subject for 30 seconds. The officer looks for four indicators of impairment including: swaying while balancing, using arms to balance, hopping to maintain balance, and putting the foot down. A 1998 validation study found that 83 percent of individuals who exhibit two or more such indicators in the performance of the test will have a BAC of 0.10 of greater.

DUIs are not just alcohol-related

The aforementioned tests began in the 1970s, are scientifically proven and are admissible in court in a majority of states. Particular to Tiger Woods’ DUI arrest, he failed the field sobriety tests, which was enough to charge and arrest him. It’s pretty clear that alcohol affects the motor skills necessary to successfully complete the tests of dexterity but what about the effects of prescription drugs. There are several prescription drugs available to patients following major surgery, which Tiger underwent. Purely based on speculation of what he may have been on let’s review the physical effects of a handful prescription medications that are often associated with post-operation recovery and chronic pain. I will not list all of the side effects of prescription medication because, as we’ve seen on commercials, the potential side effects are often most of the commercial. I will only list the common side effects as they relate to Tiger Woods’ situation.

  • Hydrocodone: Fatigue and dizziness
  • Codeine – Drowsiness, lightheadedness and sedation
  • Fetanyl – Sleepiness, unusual drowsiness, tiredness, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping
  • Meperidine – Drowsiness
  • Oxycodone – Sleepiness, unusual drowsiness, lack or loss of strength

Are we seeing a common theme of drowsiness and other synonyms here? Yes, it’s known that all of those prescription drugs have the warning label on the container about operating a vehicle and heavy machinery so, there’s no excuse for Tiger here and if he’s capable of making that mistake, he’s human like the rest of us.  Not to mention his career earnings of one billion dollars to pay for a car service. Moving on, how about the average joe that can’t or won’t pay for a cab and just got back surgery and has the responsibility to get home to his or her family. DUI has a large catchment in that it covers alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, several other illegal drugs as well as prescription drugs. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is second to alcohol in DUI convictions. Clouding the data is that people often mix substances that inhibit driving skills, much like Tiger, making it challenging to hone in on one specific drug that contributes to DUIs. Additionally, once the responding officer obtains a blood-alcohol content high enough to charge the driver with DUI, he or she often fails to test for additional mind-altering substances.

  • In 2010, per NIDA statistics, 47 percent of drugged drivers were on prescription drugs
  • The most common prescription drug in DUI arrests are painkillers

What we’ve learned over several years of tabloids and reading Star magazines is that drug use and abuse does not discriminate. This is not to suggest that Tiger Woods is addicted to his prescription drugs and we need to entertain the possibility for all individuals that addiction is a possibility. In 2012, it was estimated that 2.1 million people have been abusing their prescription pain relievers. According to NBA legend Charles Barkley, father time is undefeated, meaning our bodies only continue to break down as the years pass, which can result in additional ailments, trips to the doctor and additional prescriptions for pain relievers. What’s concerning is the information NIDA has gathered on drugged driving in older adults listed below:

  • In 2010, more than one-quarter of drugged drivers in deadly crashes were aged 50 years or older.
  • Illicit drug use in adults aged 50 to 59 has increased, more than doubling from 3 percent in 2002 to 7 percent in 2010.
  • Mental decline in older adults can lead to taking a prescription drug more or less often than they should or in the wrong amount. Older adults also may not break down the drug in their system as quickly as younger people. These factors can lead to unintended intoxication while behind the wheel of a car.

Drugged and Drunk Driving Prevention

Something that may be news to you is that December is National Impaired Driving Month. It is estimated that 30 million Americans drive drunk every year while 10 million Americans drive under the influence of drugs. Must you be reminded that the United States current population is 323 million. If we’re doing some rough math, about 1 in 9 people in the United States have driven drunk at one point. There are plenty of ways to avoid impaired driving with some of the most salient suggestions listed below:

  • Offering to be a designated driver
  • Appointing a designated driver to take all car keys
  • Getting a ride to and from parties where there are drugs and alcohol
  • Discussing the risks of drugged driving with friends in advance

While it’s important to attempt to manage your drug and/or alcohol addiction by finding a designated driver, the true prevention comes in the form of treatment for drug and alcohol use disorders, which will significantly lower an individual’s risk of causing damage to the lives of innocent people via a two-ton vehicle. If you or a loved one is known to be struggling with a substance use disorder, whether it be alcohol, illicit drugs or prescription drugs, there are several options available to assist with saving your live as well as potentially many others. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) the following services could be beneficial to someone struggling with addiction:

  • Individual and group counseling
  • Inpatient and residential treatment
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Partial hospital programs
  • Case or care management
  • Medication
  • Recovery support services
  • 12-Step fellowship
  • Peer supports

What’s important is to address the actual cause of what could contribute to a DUI. Many people that are pulled over by law enforcement while under the influence of a mind-altering substance that can affect judgment, motor skills, reaction time and the like. Those individuals can benefit from involvement in prevention strategies to prevent that addiction that often breaks down internal barriers that make it alright to get behind the wheel. Think about it again, nearly 10,000 people died in 2004 due to alcohol-related car accidents. It’s safe to say a majority of those accidents could’ve been prevented by getting a ride, not drinking and, obviously, not getting behind the wheel. Let’s hope, with all the campaigns aimed to address this problem, some of them will eventually take hold and people will start taking impaired driving seriously. Let’s be real, suppose Tiger Woods chose to drive his car at 3pm, not 3am, in a heavily populated area, his story would’ve been about vehicular manslaughter rather than his professional and personal decline, which was a common theme on talk radio the next day. Don’t be fooled, it’s possible that many people that choose to drive under the influence are not valuing their own life or the lives of others, which brings us back to the point of seeking treatment options. It’s time for that to change because even a dainty car like a 2007 Toyota Corolla has a curb weight of approximately 2,500 pounds, making it a killing a machine if used under the influence mind-altering substances.&

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