How Are Local, State, and Federal Agencies Addressing Drug-Impaired Driving?
On March 15, the Department of Transportation held a summit focusing on the topic of drug-impaired driving at its New Jersey headquarters, and it was an eye-opening conversation that attracted more than 150 in-person stakeholders and many more via live webcast. The gathering focused on the serious problem of drug-impaired driving, also referred to as Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID), featured guest speakers, and concluded with an interactive brainstorming session on what needs to be done to combat this growing problem.
Summit Highlighted the Seriousness of DUID
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is one of the federal agencies pushing for more enforcement when it comes to those driving who are under the influence of drugs, regardless if it’s legal or illegal drugs. As NHTSA noted and highlighted during the summit, deaths due to vehicle accidents spiked in both 2015 and 2016 as compared to previous years. While NHTSA says there is no one single factor they can point to for the recent increases, they do suspect that drug impairment has played a role in those increased accident and fatality numbers. But just how many accidents and fatalities does that cover? According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS):
- In 2014, there were nearly 30,000 auto accidents nationwide that resulted in 32,675 deaths.
- In 2015, there were more than 32,000 vehicle crashes nationwide that resulted in more than 35,000 deaths.
- And, in 2016, more than 34,000 crashes resulted in more than 37,000 deaths.
Though official numbers have not been released for 2017, the National Safety Council estimates there were more than 40,000 fatalities due to automobile accidents. If that number holds, fatalities continue to rise due to accidents on our nation’s roads. Among those fatalities counted were more than 600 people from Colorado as the state also saw an increase in traffic fatalities in 2017; 615 people lost their lives in Colorado auto accidents last year as compared to 608 in 2016. And, barely four months into 2018, 93 people have already been killed in Colorado due to traffic accidents.
Not all of these accidents are due to drug-impaired driving, of course, but officials are focusing on that topic because recent surveys are showing how prevalent the problem of drugged driving is becoming. In 2015, a nationwide study showed that 34 percent of drivers killed in crashes tested positive for a substance that is on a federal drug list, which was created to track this problem and try to pinpoint what drugs are causing the most serious issues. In addition, 35 percent of those involved in fatal auto accidents tested positive for marijuana, which is legal in Colorado but is part of this drugged-driving conversation. As researchers note, many people don’t seem to understand how legal medications and illegal drugs, and in the case of pot in Colorado, legal drugs, impact one’s ability to drive safely, and that is why the recent summit is a necessary first step to combatting this ongoing problem.
Federal and State Officials Work Together to Decrease Drugged Driving
As part of the summit, participants held a brainstorming session on next steps and best practices on how to combat DUID. Discussions focused on topics such as law enforcement, prosecution, and communication plans on how to better educate the public on the dangers of driving while under the influence of drugs. There will be more to report on this topic as federal and state officials are now working together to tackle the issue. They are discussing plans on what they can to emphasize the dangers of DUID and working on a strategy to stop this behavior and hopefully decrease the number of traffic fatalities.