Drugged Driving Now Kills More People Than Drunk Driving

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Drugged driving is quickly becoming one of the leading causes of death in America, overtaking drunk driving in 2015 for the first time ever according to a new report. However, some say that drunk driving still poses a bigger danger to the U.S. and the newer phenomenon of drugged driving needs more research.

The recently released report “Drug-impaired driving” published by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility says positive drug tests were more common than the presence of alcohol among the fatally injured drivers tested throughout 2015.

The data suggests that approximately 43% of drivers killed in automobile wrecks had some form of drug in their system at the time, compared to 37% of drivers who tested positive for alcohol in the same year.

“Data in the report showed that for the first time, there are more dead drivers for which we have test results that are positive for drugs than there are who were positive for alcohol,” said James Hedlund, an independent safety expert with Highway Safety North in Ithaca, New York. The new report adds to earlier research conducted by Hedlund that addressed behavioral highway safety issues, including drug-impaired driving.

“As states across the country continue to struggle with drug-impaired driving, it’s critical that we help them understand the current landscape and provide examples of best practices so they can craft the most effective countermeasures” to combat the issue of drug-impaired driving, governors association Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said.

While the findings are reason for concern, the meaning behind it is harder to understand than first appears.

The study relied on data collected from the states, which is not uniformly regulated. There is significant variance in what each states report and what tests they use. The report also notes that nine states tested 85% or more of fatally-injured drivers in 2015, but two states only tested 15% or less.

This means it is difficult to accurately measure which drugs are actually found in people’s systems and whether they were present at levels needed for intoxication. This may explain why more than half of the positive tests in the report were categorized as “other drugs.”

As Hedlund notes, it can also be difficult to ascertain the effects of these drugs on people’s driving abilities.

“Drug impairment is a complicated topic. Drugs can affect people in different ways. Some things make you super excited, and some things slow you down.”

Additionally, the report acknowledges that “many officers are not trained to identify the signs and symptoms of drivers impaired by drugs other than alcohol.”

The organizations behind the study admit it is limited by its findings, but the data is clear enough to signal that drugged driving is a rising problem in America.

“It’s illegal to drive while impaired by drugs in the same way that it’s illegal to drive while impaired by alcohol,” Hedlund says. “And you just plain shouldn’t do it.”

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