Rates of Drugged Driving on the Rise in US

October 7, 2015
Addiction TreatmentOn average, every day, 30 Americans will die on the road in an alcohol-related car accident, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – a total of more than 10,000 lives lost in 2013, accounting for more than 30 percent of all car accidents that year.

The problem with drinking and driving is well known, significant, and still happening at high rates. This is despite the fact that so much time and effort have been placed into educating the public on avoiding the practice and advertising just how dangerous it can be. That being said, the rates of alcohol-related deaths are down compared to previous years.

Unfortunately, driving while under the influence of other substances (e.g., drugged driving) can be just as hazardous, yet there is little education provided to the general public about just how deadly it can be. Driving while taking prescription medications, after smoking marijuana, and even while under the influence of over-the-counter medications can impair driving ability and cause accidents that take lives.
In fact, US Department of Health and Human Services reports that about 38 percent of drivers who died in a car accident tested positive for drug use, and about 42 percent of those tested for alcohol came up positive. Additionally, more than 33 percent of those who tested positive for drug use were positive for marijuana. The second most commonly found drug among drivers who tested positive postmortem was amphetamine at about 10 percent.

How can we make the roads safer and lower the rates of drugged and drunk driving now and in the future?

Drugged Driving and Marijuana Legalization 

Marijuana MacroAs access to marijuana increases due to states legalizing the drug for both medicinal and/or recreational use, it is likely that more people will drive while under the influence of the drug, especially if there is not a strong push to educate them against the risks. Though many argue that there isn’t enough proof to make a statement like that given that we are still in the early stages of marijuana legalization in this country, last year, the largest detox network in Colorado found that the rate of marijuana DUI increased from 8 percent to 15 percent in a year.

Jonathan Adkins is the executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). He said: “Every state must take steps to reduce drug-impaired driving, regardless of the legal status of marijuana. This is the first report to provide states and other stakeholders with the information they need. We look to the federal government to take a leadership role in this issue similar to that of drunk driving and seat belt use.”

The problem is that, unlike alcohol, there are few standards when it comes to determining whether or not someone has had “too much” marijuana, or ingested too much THC, to drive. Though government agencies are working on nailing down the finer points of how marijuana impacts driving ability, it will take some time to put this information to use effectively. In the meantime, it is up to the individual to pay attention to marijuana intake and impact, and to make positive choices that promote safety and health. It is up to the community to work together to share the information needed to inform those positive choices.

An Actionable Plan

Addressing the risks associated with driving under the influence of any drug, including marijuana and alcohol, requires a sincere effort at the community and state levels across the country. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following measures:

  • Enforce existing laws that require that all drivers have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of less than 0.08 percent.
  • Enforce existing laws that limit anyone under the age of 21 from drinking any alcoholic beverage, using marijuana in any form, or taking any illicit substance for any reason.
  • Enforce the zero-tolerance law for any driver under the age of 21 who is caught under the influence.
  • Implement more sobriety checkpoints to ensure the community’s safety.
  • Suspend the licenses of all who drive under the influence of any substance.
  • Organize education and awareness efforts in the schools and communities that emphasize health and economic impacts of driving under the influence.
  • Implement the requirement of drug and alcohol abuse or addiction treatment among those who demonstrate a need.
  • Raise taxes for alcohol and legal marijuana products, and increase fines associated with abuse of illicit drugs, illegal use of legal substances, and legal use that puts others in the way of harm.

The CDC also recommends exploring the option of lowering the legal BAC limit to 0.05 percent and requiring testing of blood alcohol levels at all accidents that result in injury.

Personal Change

You can ensure that you are not taking unnecessary chances and getting behind the wheel when you are too intoxicated to drive. Instead:

  • Call a cab or get a ride home with a designated driver every time you indulge in any substance at all.
  • Pay attention to the effect that over-the-counter or prescription medication has on you and make alternate transportation arrangements while you are taking the drugs.
  • Check in with yourself frequently on how substance use is impacting your life and take action if the negative consequences are beginning to pile up.

It’s important to note that a charge for driving under the influence is certainly an indication that it’s time to assess your relationship with drugs and alcohol, and multiple arrests demonstrate that it’s time to get help.

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