A new report finds that in 2016, 44% of fatally-injured drivers with known test results were positive for drugs, up from 28% just 10 years prior, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).
More than half of these drivers had marijuana, opioids, or a combination of the two in their system.
“Too many people operate under the false belief that marijuana or opioids don’t impair their ability to drive, or even that these drugs make them safer drivers,” noted GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins. “Busting this myth requires states to expand their impaired driving campaigns to include marijuana and opioids along with alcohol to show drivers that impairment is impairment, regardless of substance.”
DRUGS – By the numbers…
Among drug-positive fatally-injured drivers in 2016, 38% tested positive for some form of marijuana, 16% tested positive for opioids, and 4% tested positive for both marijuana and opioids, according to the report.
While alcohol-impaired driving remains a significant threat to traffic safety, presence of alcohol in fatally-injured drivers is slightly lower than it was a decade ago, decreasing from 41% in 2006 to 38% in 2016.
Adding to these concerns is the frequency of poly-drug use, or the use of multiple potentially-impairing substances simultaneously. In 2016, 51% of drug-positive fatally-injured drivers were found positive for two or more drugs. Alcohol is often in the mix as well: 49% of drivers killed in crashes who tested positive for alcohol in 2016 also tested positive for drugs.
How to reduce drug driving fatalities
The report also identifies opportunities for GHSA’s member State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) and other traffic safety stakeholders to reduce marijuana- and opioid-impaired driving. These recommendations include:
- Supporting the drug-impaired driving prosecution process through increased law enforcement training, authorizing electronic search warrants for drug tests, and educating prosecutors and judges on the unique challenges of drugged driving cases;
- Partnering across the public health, pharmaceutical, and marijuana industries to educate patients and customers about the potential impairing effects of these drugs; and
- Using public awareness campaigns to change driver attitudes about driving under the influence of marijuana and opioids.
The task of detecting drug-impaired driving primarily falls to law enforcement. Over the past three years, GHSA and Responsibility.org have partnered to provide training for nearly one thousand officers to better recognize and deter drugged drivers.