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Drugged Driving on the Rise, May Be as Deadly as Drunk Driving, Says New Report
Comprehensive recommendations for both state and federal officials will help address the growing problem of drugs and driving, from understanding what’s actually happening in America, to driver testing, legal, prosecutorial and prevention issues.
The number of people driving while under the influence of drugs is creeping up every year, and is adding significantly to the accident tolls, says a new report on drugged driving.
Marijuana, especially with legalization in several states (and more to come), is of major concern, says a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). Roadside tests are showing an increase in driving while still high on pot, says the report.
When you add in similar rises in prescription and illicit opioids and benzodiazapines, more mayhem is definitely occurring on our roads and highways.
Alcohol is still the major problem, the report said. But while driving under influence of alcohol is slightly declining in recent years, driving under the combination of alcohol and other drugs is also rising. And the combination spells real trouble.
“When drug use is combined with alcohol, the risk of a crash is increased dramatically,” said Responsibility.org President & CEO Ralph Blackman. “This is why it’s so important to understand the scope of the problem and, more importantly, provide solutions to address it.”
Most states have no drugged-driving laws
CNN reports that 15 states have zero tolerance laws for at least one potentially impairing drug. Eighteen states have either zero tolerance against driving with marijuana, or have set limits on a legal level. But all other states have no laws at all against driving under the influence of drugs, only against alcohol – even some states like Oregon and Alaska that have decriminalized recreational marijuana use.
Marijuana is now legal for medical use in D.C. and 23 states and recreational use in four states and D.C. There’s also been an increase in prescription drug abuse, the report says, with prescription painkillers quadrupling since 1999. “Any drug – whether illegal, filled by a prescription, or over-the-counter – can impair a person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle,” the GSHA report says.
Unfortunately, people are taking drugs and driving, and often combining them with alcohol. The most recent national surveys show that although drugged driving is increasing and drunk driving is decreasing, “the percentage of fatally-injured drivers testing positive for drugs – 40 percent – is almost the same as those testing positive for any alcohol,” the report says. “The most recent roadside survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 22 percent of drivers tested positive for some drug or medication.”
States and the federal government are under a lot of pressure to do something about drug-impaired driving. “But the extent of drug impairment as a contributing factor in crashes is still unclear,” the report said, “and almost nothing known or being done about prevention strategies.”
State recommendations will “help guide their response to drug-impaired driving” and include the following elements:
- Planning – Assess the data and understand what is happening now
- Laws and Sanctions – Examine and update drug-impaired driving laws
- Training – Provide training to law enforcement, prosecutors and judges
- Testing – Test all fatally-injured drivers for the presence of drugs
- Prosecution and Adjudication – Screen and assess all offenders to identify any drug or alcohol problems or underlying mental health issues and refer offenders to treatment if needed
- Data – Track all alcohol- and drug-impaired driver crash data separately to best assess the problem
Actions needed at the federal level will support state efforts, and include:
- A national drugged driving education campaign, as recommended by the Government Accountability Office
- Resources for prosecutors, judges and legislators
- Standardized roadside testing policies and devices
- Data collection guidelines
- Continued research on the effects of drugged driving laws and programs, as well as the level of impairment produced by different concentrations of the most commonly used drugs.
“Every state must take steps to reduce drug-impaired driving, regardless of the legal status of marijuana,” said Jonathan Adkins, Executive Director of GHSA.
“This is the first report to provide states and other stakeholders with the information they need. And we encourage NHTSA to issue guidance on best practices to prevent marijuana-impaired driving. We look to the federal government to take a leadership role in this issue similar to that of drunk driving and seat belt use.”
“While this report summarizes the research and data available, it also highlights how much remains unknown,” said Hedlund. “For example, we still don’t know with certainty how much of a specific drug will cause impairment or if such a relationship can even be defined. Many states do not have the data to measure their drug-impaired driving scope or characteristics. The recommendations in the report will help states refine and augment their efforts to detect and deter drug-impaired drivers.”
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