03 Apr “Drugged” Driving Becoming More Prevalent Than Drunk Driving
Over the last few decades, drunk driving has been the No. 1 cause of death on America’s highways. States have invested millions of dollars into anti-drunk driving campaigns, enforcement of traffic laws and treatment for alcoholism. MADD, SADD and other organizations have been on a mission to teach Americans, especially young Americans, about the dangers of driving drunk.
Although the number of drunk driving fatalities has finally plateaued, and may even be on the decline, that does not mean that our roads are getting safer. A new problem, known as “drugged driving” is emerging to threaten our roadways. People who drive while under the influence of any substance other than alcohol can be considered a “drugged” driver – from pot smokers to cocaine users to patients who are taking prescription drugs or even Nyquil.
In California, the Office of Traffic Safety has released data showing that drugged driving occurs in up to 15% of all trips, about twice as often as drunk driving. What’s more, about 25% of drunk drivers also test positive for some type of drug. Across the U.S., about one-third of all drivers who died in motor vehicle accidents tested positive for at least one drug, whether or not alcohol is present.
The California study, paid for with a federal grant, reviewed results of breath and saliva tests on more than 1,000 drivers across the state. The samples were collected on Friday and Saturday nights during peak drunk-driving periods. Study administrators had little problem attracting the all-volunteer participant pool, a surprising fact given that many of them were actively committing a crime at the time.
Drivers tested positive for marijuana more often than any other drug. Although this might not seem surprising given that people can test positive for the drug weeks after they ingest it, the test used to determine the presence of pot among drivers in this study only returned a positive result if the substance was used within the preceding three hours.
The prevalence of driving under the influence of pot may be, at least in part, the result of California’s medical marijuana law that makes being in possession of a physician’s recommendation enough to prevent prosecution for marijuana possession. However, many drivers who rely on this exception fail to realize that the permission does not extend to driving under the influence of the drug.
America’s growing prescription drug problem has also been identified as a cause of the increase in incidents of driving under the influence. People who drive after taking pain medications, or even the morning after taking a sleep aid, may be as impaired as someone who has had several glasses of wine. However, because the ingestion of prescription medications has been sanctioned by the driver’s doctor and may be a daily occurrence, the illegality of the act may not be as obvious as when a person drives after ingesting an illicit substance such as cocaine.
California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill into law that sorted drugged driving, drunk driving and driving under the influence of both drugs and alcohol into separate offenses. That law goes into effect Jan 1, 2014.
California has enacted several other motor vehicle related laws that took effect Jan. 1, 2013. For instance, AB 2020 requires those suspected of driving under the influence to provide a blood sample (urine tests are no longer an option), and the Passenger Charter-party Carriers’ Act requires charter drivers to ensure that all customers are over 21 if alcohol is being consumed in the vehicle.
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