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Driving Under the Influence of Drugs: Statistics on the Rise

New evidence published Wednesday by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) revealed that drug-impaired driving is on the rise, with drugs being present in 43% of fatally-injured drivers “with a known test result.” The data stems from research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

While the GHSA admits that drug-impaired driving is a “complicated issue,” there is certainly cause for concern in these new findings that invites further investigation.

Citing several causes for the increase in fatalities related to drug-impaired driving, the extensive report focuses in part on the consequences of marijuana legalization. While only 57 percent of fatalities were tested for drugs, 34.3% of those tested were positive for a drug on the FARS list, which includes marijuana, amphetamines, and other substances.

The study cites multiple roadsides surveys conducted in the past several years, including one in Washington State stating that 44 percent of surveyed drivers admitted to driving within two hours of using marijuana.

Driving under the influence of alcohol has remained a topic of national conversation, though driving under the influence of drugs—even those that have been legalized in certain states—holds similarly deadly risks.

A Risk to All

The report draws several conclusions, notably including the following:

  • Most illegal drugs may at least double a driver’s crash risk
  • The effect of any drug varies substantially between drivers

In a GHSA news release, Ralph Blackman, CEO and president of Responsibility.org stated that, “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.”

The concept of combining illicit substances—with deadly results—is on the rise, too. When combining these “cocktails” with operating a motor vehicle—the possibility of endangering one’s own life—and the lives of others—skyrockets.

Detecting drugged drivers is a more difficult process than detecting those who are alcohol-impaired, largely due to different measures set in place by individual states (i.e., different established levels of illegal impairment). When an individual is suspected to be under the influence of alcohol, law enforcement can administer a breathalyzer test, though when drug use is in question, accurate testing may involve a blood or urine test.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is known to impair “judgement, motor coordination, and reaction time.”

Other drugs surveyed by FARS, including cocaine, opioids, and amphetamines, also carry increased risk of crash as their concentration increases and particularly when combined with other substances, according to NHTSA data.


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