Drugged Driving

A graphic detailing Ford Motor Co.’s drugged driving suit shows some of the ways drivers are impaired when they’re under the influence.

Drugged drivers are seen as a bigger threat to road safety than drunk drivers, according to a new poll by AAA, Terry DeMio writes for Cincinnati.com.

The survey was released in conjunction with AAA’s first regional Drugged Driving Summit on June 14 in Blue Ash, Ohio. Attendees included law enforcement officers, traffic safety professionals, educators, physicians, toxicologists, lawyers, and judges from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.

Drugged Driving Awareness

In a press release, AAA spokesperson Cheryl Parker said:

Public awareness of the drugged driving issue is critical to finding a solution. These results are startling because they show how rapidly the public has grasped the dire threat to their safety posed by drugged driving.

Parker added that the survey’s findings are especially interesting considering it took much longer to get people to agree that drinking and driving is a dangerous combination.

The survey was conducted June 6 and 7 by Public Policy Polling. It found that almost 75% of surveyed drivers from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana said that the use of illegal drugs before driving was “a very serious threat” to their safety. That percentage is higher than the 71% who thought that drinking alcohol and driving is dangerous.

What Kinds of Drugs Are Drivers Taking?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is second only to alcohol as the substance most often found in the bloodstream of drivers after a crash. But, there has been growing concern about such drugs as heroin, other opioids, and prescription drugs causing drivers to have serious accidents.

Prescription drugs are often involved in drugged driving crashes. According to a 2010 nationwide study, about 47% of drivers who tested positive for drugs had used a prescription drug. That study also found that 37% had used marijuana and about 10% had used cocaine.

Drunk driving is still a concern, Parker said. She noted that it has been difficult to make accurate comparisons between drug-impaired and alcohol-impaired driving “because much of the crash reporting doesn’t differentiate between the two.”

Drugged Driving up Among Teens

NIDA reported in July 2014 that although drunk driving decreased among teens almost continuously from 2001 to 2011, drugged driving (attributed mainly to marijuana use) had increased for four years in a row. The two trends switched places on a graph in 2008-09.

Studies have found that drivers under the influence of marijuana are apt to weave in and out of lanes, have poor reaction time, and altered attention to the road. Combining alcohol use with marijuana use makes driving even more dangerous. And as for other drugs, cocaine or methamphetamine can cause aggressive and reckless driving, whereas certain types of sedatives — benzodiazepines, for example — can cause dizziness and drowsiness, leading to traffic accidents.

Safety Tips

To prevent drugged driving, NIDA recommends the following:

  • Offer to be a designated driver for someone who is or will be using drugs of any kind
  • Appoint a designated driver to take everyone’s car keys ahead of time
  • Make sure to arrange for a ride to and from any party where there will be drugs and alcohol
  • Discuss the risks of drugged driving with friends before going out
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