A new federal report finds that drunk driving is on the decline in the U.S Unfortunately, that encouraging news is accompanied by some disturbing findings, including that more people are driving under the influence of illegal drugs such as marijuana.
One out of every five drivers who participated in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use tested positive for drugs that could endanger the lives of other motorists, the NHTSA announced in early February.
Researchers gathered toxicology samples from drivers who stopped to participate in the voluntary, anonymous roadside survey.
The researchers found that the number of weekend nighttime drivers who had drugs in their system was 20 percent, up from the 16.3 percent who tested positive when the last survey was conducted in 2007.
The number of drivers under the influence of marijuana increased by almost 50 percent, according to the findings.
In contrast, the number of drivers who had evidence of alcohol in their systems decreased by one-third since 2007 – a decline that transportation officials attribute to the combined efforts of the federal government, states and advocacy groups making the elimination of drunk driving a national priority.
The Challenge of Eliminating Drugged Driving
By no means should we turn our attention away from drunk driving, which still claims the lives of thousands of people every year and injures even more.
However, the findings of the NHTSA study show that it is time for increased awareness about how widespread drugged driving is in the U.S., especially because many Americans may not realize that taking some of their own prescription medications can make them lethal behind the wheel.
In a press release, the NHTSA discussed the findings of a recent landmark survey assessing whether marijuana use by drivers contributes to more car accidents. Researchers found that drivers who had marijuana in their systems were more likely to crash, but also indicated that they were often members of groups that are already at high risk for wrecks such as younger men.
In New York, a law was enacted in 2014 that allows for certain patients to use marijuana for medical reasons. As states across the nation enact or debate similar measures in the coming years, it will be essential that transportation agencies continue to study the prevalence of drugged driving
Experts acknowledge that they face challenges when studying drugged driving. For instance, while much research has been done to show the relationship between alcohol consumption and the impaired ability to drive, there has not been as much research when it comes to drugs.
Also, a driver can test positive for drugs like marijuana even weeks after ingesting the substance. This makes it a challenge to prove whether impairment played a role in a particular crash.
Driving While Impaired by Prescription Drugs Can Be Avoided
Many people erroneously believe that car accidents involving legal drugs involve drivers on painkillers. However, many approved, over-the-counter drugs like antihistamines and cold medications can cause impairment as well.
This is why it is essential to read drug labels and heed warnings not to drive or operate machinery until you know how the drug affects you. It is also a good idea to tell your doctor or pharmacist about all of the medications that you are taking before obtaining a prescription for something else. The interactions between the drugs may cause impairments that might not happen otherwise.
At Powers & Santola, LLP, we understand the complexity of cases involving drugged driving. We work closely with experts who can help us to determine whether drug use contributed to an accident that harmed you or a loved one.
For more information, contact our lawyers for a free consultation.