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Drugs Cause More Fatal Auto Accidents Than Drunk Driving: Report

Operating a motor vehicle while impaired by illegal or prescription drugs now causes more fatal auto accidents than drunk driving, according to the findings of a new report. 

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released an update last week to the report, “Drug Impaired Driving: A Guide for States”, indicating that drug-impaired driving has escalated in recent years, and in 2015 the problem surpassed driving under the influence of alcohol.

Drugged driving can include impairment from any type of drug, including marijuana, narcotic painkillers, sedatives, hallucinogens, stimulants and other prescription or over-the-counter medications. Other substances not typically considered “drugs” can also impair drivers, such as solvents, paint thinner, glue and aerosols. More than 80 different drugs were reported in at least one instance of accidents involving fatal injuries in 2015.

While many states have taken steps in recent decades to combat drunk driving, drugged driving has increased due to the legalization of marijuana in many states and overdoses from the rampant opioid abuse epidemic, researchers found.

In 2015, 43% of fatally wounded drivers tested positive for drugs, compared to only 37% of accidents involving alcohol.

In addition to those findings, GHSA and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, known as Responsibility.org, also issued recommendations to the states on how to combat drugged driving.

Recommendations include increased training for law enforcement officers, to help them identify and arrest drugged drivers. The guidelines also call on the states to form “broad-based statewide task forces” to develop a strategy concerning drugged driving.

California recently established a committee to develop a blueprint focusing on efforts to combat drugged driving. The plan is scheduled for release at the end of the year.

The GHSA also called on state agencies to prioritize timely and accurate data collection. A similar program was launched in New York, where law enforcement officials use tablets to record investigation data on the scene. It is then transferred to a centralized system for easier searching and investigation.

Responsibility.org issued five grants, totaling $100,000, to offer funding to the State Highway Safety Offices for training. Sixteen states applied, and Illinois, Montana, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin were given grants.

The report recommendation also called for states to implement Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training and to implement the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program. Both are programs used to combat impaired driving.

“As drunk driving has declined, drugged driving has increased dramatically and many of today’s impaired drivers are combining two or more substances, which has a multiplicative effect on driver impairment,” said Ralph. S. Blackman, President and CEO of Responsibility.org. “We are pleased to partner with GHSA to fill a critical gap. These training grants will prepare law enforcement to detect drug-impaired drivers and make roads safer for us all.”

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