For the first time in recorded history, the drug problem has gotten so bad in the United States that deaths from drugged driving now outmatch those deaths sustained from alcohol-impaired driving. According to combined research from the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, about forty-three percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes test positive for drug influence. This outstrips the thirty-seven percent of drivers involved in fatal accidents who test positive for alcohol.
This research comes on the coattails of what is easily the worst drug addiction epidemic our nation has ever seen before. One of the side effects of such an expansive problem is of course that we are having more drugged driving deaths than ever before as well. More than a third of those who tested positive for drugs at the time of a fatal accident had marijuana in their system, and nine percent had amphetamines.
The fact that drugged driving has exceeded drunk driving is something to be concerned about. And it has exceeded drunk driving not because drunk driving statistics have dropped dramatically (though drunk driving statistics have dipped slightly in recent years) but because drugged driving statistics have increased. And they have increased intensively too. There are about twenty-four million drug addicts in the United States now, whereas prior to the turn of the century there were close to eight million at the most.
According to Ralph S. Blackman, president of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility:
According to Jim Hedlund, an official for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
And the executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association had something to say on this issue too:
It’s clear that drugged driving is a complicated issue, it’s here in force, and we need to do something about it before it gets any further out of hand.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that thirty-three thousand Americans died from drug overdoses in 2014, forty-four thousand died in 2015, and sixty-four thousand died in 2016. By 2016, more Americans were dying from drug overdoses than all car accident deaths combined, and drug use was the leading cause for a car accident in the first place.
What we can see here is that drug use is now so prevalent in the United States that it is affecting multiple areas of our life. This is no longer just an isolated problem for inner cities and poor, impoverished communities. Drug abuse happens everywhere.
Not only are people dying from drug overdoses, but people are getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs and getting into wrecks that kill themselves and others. Increasing drug abuse statistics are causing untold health problems across the nation, problems within families, and increasing crime rates too. This is what happens when a drug problem grows. Multiple areas of life are adversely affected.
As marijuana has been increasingly legalized, this too has contributed to drugged-driving deaths. In Colorado, for example, marijuana-related traffic deaths have increased by forty-eight percent since marijuana was legalized for recreational use.
Drugged driving is more complicated than drunk driving is too. It is relatively simple for law enforcement to determine if a driver is drunk or not, but drugged driving is compounded not only by law enforcement officers not being trained to identify those under the influence of drugs, but also the fact that different drugs affect different people in different ways, making drug use far more difficult to detect than alcohol abuse is. Furthermore, testing methods to determine if drug influence is present in drivers are not nearly as advanced as testing methods for drunk driving are.
We would resolve so many health problems in our nation if we simply changed the way we address drugs and alcohol. Reducing overall drug use becomes the primary focus that we need to direct our attention on when we think of the drug problem and all of its attendant risk factors in our country.
It is all too clear that drug use creates extensive problems across the U.S. Drugged driving is really only one of them. There is much more to consider here. This is why prevention has to be our primary focus, because only by halting and reversing the spread of drug addiction will we also halt and reverse all of the other ancillary problems that drug use creates.