New data released in April finds that drivers killed in car accidents were, for the first time in U.S. history, more likely to test positive for drugs than alcohol.
According to the study conducted by the Governors Highway Safety Association in partnership with the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, 43 percent of drivers in 2015 that died in crashes had used a legal or illegal drug compared to 37 percent that tested above the legal limit for alcohol.
The highest percentage of drivers killed in vehicle accidents – 36.5 percent – had used marijuana. The Drug-Impaired Driving Report also found amphetamine use in more than 9 percent of cases.
“People should generally get educated that drugs of all sorts can impair your driving ability,” said Jim Hedlund, author of the report and a former official at the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.
Why is Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) so Complicated?
The 2017 update of the study makes note of just how complex a situation Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) is for drivers and law enforcement:
- Hundreds of different drugs can impair a person’s ability to operate a vehicle
- Reactions to over-the-counter, prescription, legal or illegal drugs effect individuals differently
- Drug laws from state to state differ under varying circumstances, including while driving
- Law enforcement faces greater difficulty in detecting drugged driving
- There aren’t as many convictions for DUID as there are for DUI because of the capabilities of roadside testing and a framework of legislation already in place
What Types of Drugs are Included in Drugged Driving?
The 2017 Drug-Impaired Driving report distinguishes among four different types of drugs:
- Illegal drugs, including narcotics, stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens
- Legal, non-medical drugs
- Prescription medications
- Over-the-counter medications
Some critics blame the rise of drug-related traffic deaths on the rise in recreational and medicinal marijuana laws across the country. However, Michael Collins, deputy director at the Drug Policy Alliance, told Reuters, “I think you really need to take these analyses with a pinch of salt.”
Collins suggests that with marijuana, for example, the drug can remain in a person’s system for weeks and isn’t necessarily evidence that a driver was intoxicated at the time of the accident.
Impaired driving, with either alcohol or drugs, skews higher among 18 to 25-year-olds than any other age group. Multiple DUIs or DUIDs might be a sign of dependence or addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Loved ones, friends and colleagues should stay vigilant to the signs and encourage those who need it to seek addiction treatment.
With the report, experts lay out recommendations for states to better combat drugged-driving. Among the suggestions are to create zero-tolerance laws along with public awareness campaigns to raise awareness of this possibly dangerous issue.
In the meantime, it’s important for drivers to take responsibility as well. Before heading out to the morning work commute or for the evening, make sure none of the medications you take, either prescribed or over-the-counter, cause any impairing side effects, such as drowsiness.
As with any recreational substances like alcohol and marijuana, the safest bet is to get a taxi, take public transportation or an Uber to avoid driving all together.