New Study Finds Drugged Driving is on the Rise

Weed behind the wheel

WASHINGTON — A new study by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that more than 44 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2016 resulted from drivers impaired by drugs. Ten years ago, the number was 28 percent. At least 38 percent of fatalities were the result of drivers intoxicated by alcohol.

Of the fatalities resulting from drugged-drivers, more than half tested positive for marijuana, opioids, or both. Forty-two percent tested positive for other drugs like Xanax and cocaine. Director of the GHSA government relations division Russ Martin said that the over-prescribing of prescription opioids and liberal marijuana laws led to the increase in drug-related traffic deaths.

Martin also told reporters that testing for drugs is difficult.

"Right now, we don't have a nationally agreed upon way to test drivers for drug impairment similar to a breathalyzer or blood test for alcohol," he said.

THC can remain in the bloodstream for several weeks, so measuring how recent a person has consumed the drug with blood and urine tests aren't yet possible, although an Oakland, Calif. company is working on a device that measures the THC in the breath and can accurately measure if someone consumed the drug within hours.

The GHSA is advising specialty training for officers to recognize drivers who may be under the influence of drugs in the meantime.

Twenty-Seven Percent of Pot Users Drive High Daily

Another survey last month conducted online found that found that 27 percent of marijuana users said that they drove under the influence of marijuana on a daily basis, and at least 69 percent of marijuana users admitted to driving under the influence of marijuana at least one time over the past year.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in the state of Washington also conducted a survey in 2016 finding that after the state legalized marijuana, the percentage of traffic deaths of drivers testing positive for the drug doubled. Washington, D.C. and 9 states have legalized recreational marijuana.

Jake Nelson is the traffic safety director for AAA and says that alcohol is much easier to research because there is 30 years of data to compare. "For drugs, that relationship is not known," Nelson said.

Jim Hedlund authored the report and said that it is impossible to comprehend how many people are killed by driving under the influence of drugs, because many drivers are not tested. Hedlund also noted that many people testing positive are not always impaired.

Hedlund says that drugged driving is also complicated to measure because different drugs and combinations can impair people differently and to varying degrees. There is not currently an accurate way to measure drug impairment for patrol officers, and drug driver testing is different state by state.

The GHSA also released a report in February that found a sharp increase in pedestrian-related traffic fatalities during the first 6 months of legal weed in legal recreational states. The study found that the deaths increased 16.4 percent last year in recreational marijuana states and fell 5.8 percent in other states.
bThe GHSA recommends that states provide public education on impaired driving, roadside drug-detection, more training for law enforcement, improve data software, and change drug testing policies and procedures as options to decrease traffic fatalities. The GHSA also recommend that states legalizing marijuana tax the drug and use some of the profits for marijuana-impaired driving programs.

According to the National Transportation Highway Safety Administration, at least 37,000 people died from traffic accidents in 2016, and more than 5,300 of those drivers tested positive for drugs.