A new report released by the Governors’ Highway Safety Association reveals that drug use by drivers is a significant and growing concern among traffic safety advocates.
This is particularly true as a growing number of states (23) have approved marijuana for medicinal use and four for recreational use, while others have significantly relaxed criminal sanctions against possession. Plus, the rates of prescription drug abuse has increased substantially, considering the number of painkillers dispensed nationally has quadrupled in just the last 16 years. Just from 2007 to 2014, the number of drivers who tested positive for marijuana or illegal drugs rose from 12.4 percent to 15.1 percent.
So while the incidence rate of drunk driving has declined significantly, the rate of drugged driving is climbing. In fact, the percentage of drivers killed in car accidents who tested positive for drugs is 40 percent. That’s about as many as tested positive for alcohol. And a recent annual roadside survey conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found 22 percent of drivers tested positive for at least one medication or drug.
Of course, correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation. We know not all drivers with drugs in their system were necessarily impaired, and some of those medications were obtained legally. Nonetheless, it’s illegal to drive under the influence of any drug that might impair one’s ability to safely operate a vehicle – regardless of whether that drug was obtained legally or not.
We also know that marijuana consumption can most certainly cause impairment. According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can cause:
- Altered time and space perception
- Lack of concentration
- Drowsiness/ sedation
- Impaired memory
- Dulling of attention
- Image distortion
All or any of these can and do have a negative impact on driving. It’s difficult, however, to determine exactly how many drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for THC were in fact impaired. Interpreting blood concentration levels isn’t an exact science with marijuana and other drugs the way it is with alcohol. While alcohol is processed by the body very quickly, traces of marijuana and other drugs may last far longer than impairment.
Still, the increasing number of drivers who use this and other drugs is disconcerting.
The most common drugs the GHSA found involved in fatal traffic accidents were:
- Marijuana (35 percent)
- Amphetamines (10 percent)
- Hydrocodone (7 percent)
- Oxycodone (3.6 percent)
- Benzodiazepines (4.5 percent)
- Cocaine (4.5 percent)
An independent researcher who authored the report said that while drunk driving remains a major problem, it’s one that has received substantial attention from the media, traffic safety advocates and others. Meanwhile, mounting problems relating to drugged driving have largely flown under the radar.
The report further concludes that driving under the influence of marijuana and other drugs may double a person’s chances of being involved in a wreck. Although some studies have come to different conclusions about the seriousness the drugged driving risks, there is no denying it’s unsafe, although alcohol does remain the deadliest risk.
That’s largely due to the way alcohol affects a person, as opposed to the way drugs impair. For example, drunk drivers tend to speed. Marijuana-impaired drivers tend to go slower. But the reaction times are slower for both types of impaired drivers, as opposed to a sober driver.
One of the keys to reducing these dangers, the report concludes, is for police agencies to implement better training for officers to recognize drug impairment. That’s because while alcohol may be easily detected in breath or blood, the human body processes drugs differently.
If you are injured by a drug-impaired driver, you will need to contact a lawyer with extensive experience, as these civil cases may be more complex than those involving an alcohol-impaired driver.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
New Report Urges National, State Action on Drugged Driving, Sept. 30, 2015, Governors’ Highway Safety Association
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Castro v. City of Thousand Oaks – Pedestrian Injury Lawsuit to Proceed, Sept. 16, 2015, Orlando Car Accident Attorney Blog