Deadly “drugged driving” surpasses drunk driving

I was afraid it would happen. And now, the latest statistics bear me out: For the first time ever, drugged drivers were involved in more fatal motor vehicle fatalities than drunk drivers. And marijuana accounted for the highest percent of positive drug tests.

What’s that they always respond to any criticism about marijuana, that it “never killed anyone?”

The Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility announced the findings last month. Of those tested, 43 percent of motorists who died had drugs in their systems, which exceeded the 37 percent who had alcohol.

It’s an important statistic to discuss, as nanny state governments continue to pay far more attention to driving under the influence of alcohol than to driving under the influence of drugs.

Indeed, most states have driven the permissible blood alcohol levels in drivers lower and lower — from 0.10 to 0.08 percent. Utah recently took the unprecedented step of cutting the level to 0.05 percent, with very little scientific evidence that this level causes impairment. It means that some people in Utah risk being arrested for “drunk driving” if they get behind the wheel after drinking one glass of wine or one beer.

Problem drinkers — not social drinkers — cause motor vehicle fatalities

As I often report, the real danger on the roads stems from drivers who are double the legal limit. In motor vehicle fatality investigations that I conducted in the past as a Medical Examiner, these drivers didn’t have one drink “too many.” They had a dozen drinks too many.

But state governments seem to prefer to pick the low-hanging fruit of harassing citizens who have a second or third glass of wine when going out to dinner, instead of focusing on making our streets and highways really safe.

Drugged driving is an even bigger, overlooked problem

The federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tracks more than 400 drugs. And they report that marijuana accounts for 35 percent of positive drug tests.

Meanwhile, 29 states and Washington D.C. legalized marijuana for “medical” purposes. (Although there are still no real medical prescribing guidelines for marijuana.) And eight states and D.C. legally permit “recreational” use.

Plus, laws and interpretations vary widely when it comes to the definition of drug impairment while driving.

A drug intoxication test, comparable to alcohol breathalyzer analysis, could help law enforcement try to keep the streets safe. But no easy, comparable screening test exists for drugs.

Law enforcement officials receive training to recognize signs of behavioral impairment due to alcohol. But very often, officials can’t fully evaluate a driver for drug impairment during a roadside stop. So — they must take a suspected drug-impaired driver into custody for further testing — adding time and expense, and taking more time and attention away from the duties of law enforcement.

Furthermore, many law enforcement officials don’t receive training to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug-impaired drivers. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) — for whom I have presented training in the past — as well as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offer specialized training courses to teach law enforcement personnel how to recognize the behavioral signs of drug impairment. But the courses are not required.

Plus, the behavioral impacts of alcohol have been carefully studied for decades, and the data has been analyzed down to the nearest 0.01 percent blood alcohol level. By contrast, drug-impaired driving has only recently been studied. And forensic science doesn’t know about the specific blood levels of drugs associated with specific levels of behavioral impairment while driving.

Ironically, some of the politically correct politicians who push for stricter drunk driving limits also push for legalization of marijuana. And a spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) appears to think that ignorance is bliss. In fact, despite the new data, he told CNN in an interview that driving under the influence of alcohol is still “our biggest highway safety problem.”

He went on to say, “another problem, particularly with marijuana, is that people often combine the two, so how do you separate them.” Indeed. In my view, this common problem gives us even greater reason to take drugged driving a lot more seriously.



‘Drugged driving’ surpasses drunken driving among drivers killed in crashes, report finds,” CNN ( 4/28/2017