Drugged Driving Trends and Statistics in the U.S.
March 19, 2019
The United States is facing an interesting set of events when it comes to drug use. Overall attitudes towards drugs like marijuana are becoming more liberal in much of the country. 33states have legalized medical marijuana use, while ten states have legalized recreational use of marijuana.
These shifts leave many states and law enforcement organizations scrambling to figure out how to handle the logistics of changing legislation. For example, how is driving under the influence handled, and what objective standard can be used to determine marijuana?
According to Aizman Law Firm, a California law firm specializing in DUI and criminal defense, law enforcement must have probable cause for charging someone with DUI, but what does that probable cause look like with marijuana use?
There’s also the issue of marijuana being illegal at the federal level still.
This combines with the growing opioid epidemic in the United States and how that impacts driving. One study from USC recently found the U.S. has the highest drug overdose death rates among all high-income countries. Drug overdose death rates have tripled in the U.S. in the past two decades.
As far as drugged driving and opioids, many of these drugs of abuse are prescriptions, which makes handling driving issues a challenge if someone is legally prescribed these potent pain relievers.
The following are some news headlines, trends and statistics about drugged driving in the U.S. currently.
MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR TAKING STEPS AGAINST DRUGGED DRIVING
One of the most recent headlines regarding drugged driving came out of Massachusetts. The state has seen a recent influx of retail marijuana stores opening up, prompting Governor Charlie Baker to introduce a bill to revoke someone’s license if they refuse a chemical drug test. The bill would also authorize courts to recognize that the use of THC impairs drivers, expand training for experts in drug recognition, and ban opened packages of marijuana in cars.
Additionally, the legislation would allow officers to get an electronic search warrant for evidence of intoxication.
Despite the move, not everyone is in favor of stricter legislation for drugged driving. For example, Dan Zivkovich, executive director of the Massachusetts Police Training Committee, said that they are years away from having conclusive scientific research regarding the measurement of impairment from marijuana.
IMPAIRED DRIVING DEATH RATES
Despite hesitation from some, deaths from impaired driving are on the rise since Colorado made the recreational use of marijuana legal in 2012. Since then auto deaths related to marijuana have been steadily going up. While the death rates have been going up, reports from the state show testing procedures and laws haven’t kept up with the fast evolution occurring in the state.
Also in Colorado, the Department of Transportation did a survey. 55percent of marijuana users who responded said they felt it was safe to drive while high.
WHICH DRUGS MOST LINKED TO DRUGGED DRIVING?
According to the federal government, after alcohol, marijuana is the most common drug found in the blood of drivers who are in crashes. Tests for marijuana in drivers can look at the level of THC in their blood. However, THC can stay in bodily fluids and be detectable for days or weeks. That’s why testing is such a problem-someone could test positive for THC, but the effects may have worn off days before or even more.
Some studies have indicated drivers with THC in their blood were around twice as likely to be responsible for a deadly auto crash or be killed as compared to drivers who hadn’t used any alcohol or drugs.
Prescription drugs are also increasingly linked to drugged driving accidents and fatalities. Most commonly this is prescription drugs, but current research hasn’t made any distinctions between illicit use of prescription drugs, and medical use.
While we often think about younger people being involved in drugged driving crashes, more than ¼ of drugged drivers in deadly crashes were 50 or older according to one study. Illicit drug use among older adults has also gone up significantly in recent years.
More specific statistics related to drugged driving include:
In 2016 more than 37,000 people died in vehicle crashes according to the National Transportation Highway Safety Administration-this was an increase of 5.6 percent from the previous year
54percent of fatally injured drivers were tested for drugs and alcohol that year, and of those 38 percent tested positive for marijuana, 16 percent for opioids and 4 percent for both.
The other 42 percent tested positive for other drugs both legal and illegal including Xanax and cocaine.
It’s likely there will be continuing research put toward gaining more understanding of drugged driving, its effects and how to prevent it.