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Drivers on drugs on the rise, alcohol declining

Staff writer |
Drug use by drivers is a mounting concern, particularly in light of more permissive marijuana laws and an increase in prescription drug abuse.

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Marijuana is now legal for medical use in D.C. and 23 states and recreational use in four states and D.C.. The amount of prescription painkillers dispensed in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1999, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

Any drug – whether illegal, filled by a prescription, or over-the-counter – can impair a person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.

Unfortunately, many individuals taking these drugs also drive. The most recent national data show drugged driving is increasing while drunk driving is declining.

The percentage of fatally-injured drivers testing positive for drugs – 40 percent – is almost the same as those testing positive for any alcohol.

The most recent roadside survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 22 percent of drivers tested positive for some drug or medication.

Both states and the federal government are under increased pressure to address drug-impaired driving, but the extent of drug impairment as a contributing factor in crashes is still unclear, and little is known about effective prevention strategies.

“Every state must take steps to reduce drug-impaired driving, regardless of the legal status of marijuana,” said Jonathan Adkins, Executive Director of GHSA.

“This is the first report to provide states and other stakeholders with the information they need. And we encourage NHTSA to issue guidance on best practices to prevent marijuana-impaired driving. We look to the federal government to take a leadership role in this issue similar to that of drunk driving and seat belt use.”

“When drug use is combined with alcohol, the risk of a crash is increased dramatically,” said President & CEO Ralph Blackman. “This is why it’s so important to understand the scope of the problem and, more importantly, provide solutions to address it.”

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