Accidents in Southern California involving impaired drivers are all too common. While the majority of these are drunk driving accidents, there is no shortage of accidents caused by drivers who are impaired by some other kind of substance -- prescription drugs, illegal drugs or some combination of both. What is rare, though, is the driver who would inhale laughing gas to get high -- and do it while actually driving a car.

Such a case happened in Santa Ana, California, two years ago. A driver was inhaling laughing gas from a balloon while operating the vehicle. When the gas began to affect him, the driver dropped his head and let his hands fall off the steering wheel. Not surprisingly, this led the car he was driving with three teenage passengers to careen out of control. The runaway vehicle struck a pine tree head-on.

One of the passengers died in the accident. The other two were injured. The man driving the car did not walk away from the accident unscathed, however. He suffered severe burns on his body as well as a severe brain injury; he is now confined to a wheelchair. As a result of his injuries, the judge who sentenced him this month handed out punishment that was considerably less severe than what the prosecutor in the case was recommending.

The man received five years of probation, a lighter sentence than the year behind bars asked for by the prosecutor. However, the judge said that the man's weakened condition and the fact that he will likely never drive again anyway were appropriate punishments. He could also be liable in civil cases brought by the family of the 15-year-old who died in the crash or the other teenage victims.

Source: The Orange County Register, "Man gets jail for deadly crash after inhaling laughing gas," Larry Welborn, Sept. 24, 2012