We recently posted a blog on drug-impaired driving, which is just what it implies — it’s when a driver uses illicit drugs or misuses prescription medication and then gets behind the wheel of a vehicle. The reason we mention this again is that the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility just released a comprehensive update of their 2015 report on drugged driving, and the news is not good.
The updated report shows that while there has been some progress made on curtailing drinking and driving, drug use among drivers is escalating. In 2015, the most recent year with national data available, drugs were detected in 43 percent of fatally-injured drivers with a known test result. That’s more often than the presence of alcohol.
This trend seems to be more prevalent in states that have legalized marijuana. In addition to the use of pot, the growing national problem of opioid abuse also is contributing to the problem of car accidents. Ralph Blackman, president and CEO of Responsibility.org, said:
As drunk driving has declined, drugged driving has increased dramatically. And many of today’s impaired drivers are combining two or more substances, which has a multiplicative effect on driver impairment.
Millions Admit to Driving Drugged
A nationwide survey conducted in 2014 asked how many people take drugs and drive. Some 10 million people admitted to driving under the influence of illicit drugs during the year prior to the survey. In addition, the survey revealed that men are more likely than women to drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol, and drivers ages 18-25 are more likely to drive drug-impaired than drivers age 26 and older.
After alcohol, marijuana is most often found in blood samples of drivers involved in car crashes. In Colorado, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 48 percent in the three-year average (2013-2015) since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, compared to the three-year average (2010-2012) before legalization, according to the GSHA report.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), in 2016, 55 percent of marijuana users said they thought it was safe to drive under the influence of pot. That is a dangerous philosophy, and one law enforcement officials continue to battle.
Physiological Effects of THC
THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical compound in cannabis that can cause a euphoric high as well as impairment. Cannabis, just like alcohol, has measurable physiological effects: It impairs your ability to drive and react quickly in critical situations. So, driving high is dangerous in and of itself; mixing pot and alcohol is even more so.
Authorities believe drugged driving is more difficult to stop than drunk driving because there are hundreds of drugs, both legal and illegal, that can adversely impact your ability to drive safely. Detecting drugged driving is difficult. There may be less public outcry about drugged driving than there is with driving drunk, but despite that, officials will continue to work on ways of stopping the growing trend.