New Report Released Reveals Increased Use of Drugs While Driving
National, State Action on Impaired Driving Urged by New Report–Impact on the safety of traffic, and just what states can do.
WASHINGTON, D.C.– An ever mounting concern is the use of drugs by those who are driving, even more so now with the advent of more permissive marijuana laws. Atlanta and 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, and D.C. and four other states have legalized it for recreational use. Moreover, a dramatic rise in prescription drug abuse concerns many people. (Since 1992, dispensed prescription painkillers has quadrupled in the U.S.) Nevertheless, any drug can impair the ability of an individual to operate a vehicle safely—whether over-the-counter, filled by prescription, or illegal.
The sad truth is that so many people taking these drugs are also driving. Actually, the latest reports show that drunk driving is actually decreasing, while drugged driving is on the upswing. In fact, the percentage fatally injured people testing positive for drugs is 40 percent, which virtually matches those who test positive for alcohol. The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) revealed in their most recent roadside survey that 22 percent of drivers test positive for some medication or drug.
Drug Impaired Driving
Both the federal government and all states face increased pressure to address drug-impaired driving. However, in crashes, the extent of drug impairment as a significant factor is not totally clear. Also, we still know little as far as effective strategies. Just today, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) and the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a comprehensive report, the first of its kind, regarding drug usage on the roadways of our nation. They also offer suggestions for dealing with this complex issue of highway safety.
The Executive Director of GHSA, Jonathan Adkins, stated that “every state has to take steps. regardless of the legal status of marijuana, to reduce drug-impaired driving”. This is the first report providing needed information to states and other interested parties. And we also encourage NHTSA to contribute their guidance and expertise on these matters and issues.
Responsibility.org President & CEO, Ralph Blackman, has stated that, “the risk of a crash is increased greatly, when drug use is combined with alcohol. For this reason understanding the scope of the problem is vital, and providing solutions to address it even more important”.
At its core, the report features different actions for states to consider and take on a wide spectrum of different issues. One private/public initiative, “Drugged Driving = Done Driving,” seeks to educate young drivers in the state of Ohio on the risks and dangers of operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs. It has the support of political leadership and law enforcement across the state, and includes public service announcements, peer-to-peer efforts, and grassroots engagement with traffic safety stakeholders and youth.
We recommend the following suggestions that states can employ to help fashion their response to drug-impaired driving:
- Planning– Understand what is happening now by carefully assessing the available data.
- Training– To law enforcement, prosecutors and judges, provide sufficient training.
- Laws and Sanctions– Update all drug-impaired driving laws after carefully examining them.
- Testing– For the presence of any drugs, test all fatally injured drivers.
- Prosecution and Adjudication– To identify any alcohol or drug problems, or any possible mental health concerns, screen and assess all offenders, and if needed, refer them to treatment.
- Data– To best assess the problem, separately track all drug-impaired and alcohol crash data.
The report also mentions federal actions needed to best support the efforts of the states. These include the Government Accountability Office’s recommended national drugged driving educational campaign; increasing resources for legislators, judges, and prosecutors; standardizing roadside testing devices and policies; and continuing research on the effects of drug programs and drug driving laws.
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“This report highlights how much remains unknown, even as it summarizes the data and research available”, says Hedlund. “The report’s suggestions will assist states in augmenting and refining their efforts to detect and deter drivers that are drug-impaired”.