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NHTSA Targeting Drugged Driving Risks Amid Opioid Epidemic, Expanding Marijuana Legalization

Federal highway safety officials have launched a new initiative designed to reduce drugged driving on U.S. roadways, announcing an upcoming summit that is open to experts and federal, state, and local authorities, to develop creative solutions to improve safety and recognition of impaired drivers on opioids, marijuana or other drugs. 

The new initiative to combat drugged driving was announced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on January 25, indicating that the steps are being taken in response to the growing opioid epidemic in the U.S., and the trend of states legalizing the use of marijuana.

The NHTSA is hosting a summit on March 15, to lead a campaign and call-to-action by bringing together key stakeholders such as safety partners, state and local officials, data and policy experts, law enforcement, criminal justice professionals, toxicologists, and drug recognition experts.

The focus of the summit will be to join the NHTSA in structuring an effective course of action and processes to address the nation’s drugged-driving problem that causes thousands of roadway fatalities annually.

Experts are expected to discuss the best practices for educating the public on the risks associated with drug-impaired driving, and how to best identify those under the influence of drugs on the road. Procedures for collecting consistent data and tracking drug impaired driving trends will be one of the priority topics, according to the release.

Prior studies have shown an upward trend of  drug use across the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found more than 20.7 million people over the age of 16 years of age self-reported driving under the influence of alcohol, and another 11.8 million reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs.

The data indicates that men between the ages of 18 to 25 were more likely to drive after either drinking alcohol or taking illicit drugs.

NIDA reports that after alcohol impairment, marijuana is the drug most often found in the blood of drivers involved in crashes. The study found drivers with delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) were roughly twice as likely to be responsible for a deadly crash or be killed than drivers who hadn’t used drugs or alcohol.

It is illegal across all 50 states to drive under the influence of drugs, however, the problem has been consistently growing across the United States, similarly to drunk driving crashes.

In a 2014 NHTSA Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers, researchers found a significant increase in the number of drivers using marijuana or other illegal drugs. The survey found nearly one in four drivers tested positive for at least one drug that could affect safety. Furthermore, the majority of the demographic to have tested positive for drugs, were young men, who are already statistically more likely to be involved in fatal crashes, even without the influence of drugs or alcohol.

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