Report Underscores Drug-Impaired Driving Dangers, Urges Action

According to an alarming new report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association, driving under the influence of drugs such as marijuana and prescription medications has increased so significantly that its contribution to fatal incidents on the roads must be the focus of new prevention efforts on the part of law enforcement agencies and others.

The report includes several suggestions on what steps might be taken on a local, state and national level to bring the situation under better control and reduce the incidence of deadly, yet wholly avoidable accidents.

Drugged driving statistics

One particularly notable figure gleaned from report indicates just how much driving under the influence of drugs has grown in recent years. Between 2007 and 2013, the percentage of motorists testing positive for marijuana in their systems increased from 12.4% to 15.1%. The report states that approximately 38% of individuals who died in car accidents during 2013 had some type of drug in their systems. This represents a similar figure to drivers who were found to be under the influence of alcohol while operating a vehicle.

It is interesting to note which drugs seem to be the most problematic when it comes to driving while impaired. Of those found to be driving while under the influence, marijuana appeared to be the most popular, with 34.7% of the tally. Amphetamines came in at a still-worrisome 9.7%, a category which includes a range of stimulants such as nasal decongestant medications and ADHD drugs.

Report urges increased prevention, enforcement efforts

Dr. James Hedlund, former senior official at NHTSA, the author and researcher behind this new report, has suggested that while most of the attention concerning impaired driving has long been given to alcohol-related incidents, it is time to focus additional energies on the problem of drivers who are under the influence of drugs. Statistics suggest that drunk driving is actually on a downward trend, while drugged operation of motor vehicles has taken a distinct uptick.

This is attributable in some part to the fact that a number of states have made marijuana legal for recreational as well as medicinal use. Adding to the situation is the fact that more and more Americans are using prescription pain medication on an almost routine basis.

Oxycodon, hydrocodone, cocaine and benzodiazepines were found in the systems of far too many individuals killed in automobile accidents, and the rise in reliance on anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications is likely to blame. Though the precise degree to which the use of drugs of any type increases the likelihood of being involved in a serious collision is still the subject of debate and study, there can be little doubt that many of the most commonly detected substances reduce drivers’ ability to react on the roadways.

State laws regarding drug impaired driving

According to Hedlund, part of the problem lies with the wildly divergent state laws pertaining to drugged driving. 15 states presently employ zero tolerance laws with regard to one or more drugs known to cause significant impairment. 18 states either exhibit zero tolerance or or have set specific limits on the legal level of marijuana that can be in a driver’s system. However, states in which marijuana is legal for recreational purposes have no such laws on the books regulating drug-impaired operation of a motor vehicle.

In order to begin the process of taking drug-impaired driving more seriously on a national basis, the report urges an increase in drug awareness campaigns, targeted law enforcement training programs and the adoption of drug-impaired driving laws in all jurisdictions designed to enhance the penalties to be faced by drivers found to be operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of potentially dangerous drugs. Shining a spotlight on what has become a serious epidemic may be the most effective way to combat the often devastating consequences, according to Hedlund.

Hardy Wolf & Downing know all too well the tragic outcomes caused by drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol. If you or someone you love has been harmed in an accident of this type, we stand prepared to help you fight for compensation. Call 1-800-INJURED to arrange a no-cost consultation with leading Maine car accident lawyers.