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Drugged driving fatalities continue to rise in America
According to a 2011 White House study, nearly one out of every five driver fatalities in 2009 – 18 percent to be exact – involved “drugged driving,” the term that describes the growing epidemic of drug-impaired driving, similar to “drunk driving” for alcohol impairment. The latest figures show a rise from just 13 percent back in 2005.
Not all drivers killed in traffic accidents are tested for drugs. In fact, the average is only around 60 percent of them. But among drivers who were tested, 33 percent tested positive for drugs in 2009, while only 28 percent tested positive in 2005.
This rising trend of drugged driving fatalities is causing even more concern than you might expect, because in that same period, 2005 to 2009, the total number of all driver fatalities dropped significantly – from 27,491 in 2009 to 21,798 in 2009. Yet the percentage of drugged driver fatalities rose 5 percent.
These findings are described in Drug Testing and Drug-Involved Driving of Fatally Injured Drivers in the United States: 2005-2009, a report from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). It was based on figures from a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis survey.
We’re just talking about drugs here, not alcohol. We already know from other studies that alcohol claims one-third of all driver fatalities. Alcohol was also involved in combination with drugs in some of this study’s findings. But drugs – stimulants, depressants and psych drugs – were the main focus of the study.
The study includes reams of information of lesser interest to most of us, such as comparing males to females (not much difference) or specific findings for counties. We’re more concerned with the big national picture. And it isn’t a pretty one.
The depressing reality is that 21,978 Americans were killed in vehicle accidents in 2009 (latest available figures), and nearly a fifth of them – 3,952 – were killed while driving under the influence of drugs.
By way of comparison, that’s more than three times as many military fatalities in the more than 10 years of Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Looking at it another way, drugged driving is killing more than 10 drivers every single day of the year. And when you add in the alcohol-related driver fatalities, the total is much higher.
And that’s only driver fatalities. Thousands more deaths occur among passengers in both the drug- and alcohol-impaired drivers’ cars; there are thousands more victims in the cars crashed into by impaired drivers; and hundreds of innocent pedestrians and cyclists that are also struck and killed by impaired drivers.
We also have to consider the countless thousands of injuries, from weeks or months of pain and misery to a lifetime of permanent disability. There are far more injuries than deaths, resulting in incalculable health care costs.
Now, when you add to the health costs the legal, law enforcement, loss of work and family costs, the financial impact on society is truly immeasurable. Estimates place the cost of drugged and drunk driving in the billions of dollars a year.
You can’t put a dollar value on the irreconcilable emotional losses among families, friends and coworkers of the dead and injured. But these are even more costly, in human terms, than the losses of dollars and cents.
When you consider that all these thousands and thousands of deaths were utterly needless and avoidable, the scope of this national tragedy is magnified almost beyond belief. All it would take, to save every one of these lives, is for anyone using drugs or alcohol to simply refuse to climb behind the wheel.
Just that one, single, simple decision would save thousands lives and heartbreaks every year.
What kind of people are we, that we would risk not just our own lives, but carelessly risk the lives of our fellow citizens – men, women, children and infants – by driving while on drugs or alcohol?
Why don’t we find ways to make our educational system really teach kids that reach middle and high school to not start using drugs and alcohol, let alone to drive a car while doing so?
At the bottom of it all, what kind of examples are we as parents setting for our kids? As parents, we are the product of the same educational system that has failed to get that essential message across. We clearly need to make some changes in our thinking. And our local, state and national policies need to be changed to ensure better educational results. No one wants this carnage on our streets and highways to continue.
Here at Novus, our patients come from all walks of life, but they have one thing in common – they’ve made that all-important, life-affirming decision to become free of drugs and alcohol. Part of that decision is always a clear look at the negative effects of substance abuse, and a resolve to never let it happen again.
If you or someone you know has a problem with drugs or alcohol, don’t hesitate to pick up your phone and call Novus. We’ll not only help you find the right solution, we’ll both be contributing in our small way to make our roadways safer.
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