Drug use by drivers is a mounting concern, particularly in light of more permissive marijuana laws (now legal for medical use in D.C. and 23 states and recreational use in four states and D.C.) and an increase in prescription drug abuse (the amount of prescription painkillers dispensed in the U.S. has quadrupled 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 most recent national data show drugged driving is increasing while drunk driving is declining. The percentage of fatally-injured drivers testing positive for drugs – 40 percent – is almost the same as those testing positive for any alcohol. 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.
Both states and the federal government are under increased pressure to address drug-impaired driving, but the extent of drug impairment as a contributing factor in crashes is still unclear, and little is known about effective prevention strategies. This week, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) released a first-of-its-kind comprehensive report about drug use on our nation’s roadways, providing recommendations to confront this complex highway safety issue.
“Every state must take steps to reduce drug-impaired driving, regardless of the legal status of marijuana,” said Jonathan Adkins, Executive Director of GHSA, in a news release. “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.”
“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.”
At the heart of the report are action items states can take on a broad spectrum of issues. One innovative public/private initiative highlighted in the report is Drugged Driving=Done Driving, a new statewide pilot program in Ohio that educates young drivers about the risks of driving under the influence of drugs. It includes peer-to-peer efforts, public service announcements, grassroots engagement with youth and traffic safety stakeholders and has the support of law enforcement and political leadership across the state.
Other recommendations that states can use to help guide their response to drug-impaired driving 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.
The report also identifies actions needed at the federal level to support state efforts. These 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; and 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.
“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.”
An interactive PDF version of the new report and infographics are available online.
GHSA will hold a webinar on the report on Oct. 7 at 2 p.m. EST. Register at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4571157289772220673.