The increase in DUI of drugs has led some to ask whether drugged drivers cause more fatal traffic collisions than drunk drivers. At least according to a new study, the answer is yes.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, a nonprofit funded by alcohol distillers, released a report in April of this year that found in 2015, drivers killed in vehicle collisions were more likely to be under the influence of drugs than alcohol. This was the first recorded time where it is suggested that drugged driving is responsible for more traffic fatalities than drunk driving.
“Drug impaired driving is increasing,” said Jim Hedlund a private consultant from Ithaca, New York who conducted the study for the Governors Highway Safety Association. “We have new data that show drugs are more prevalent to drivers than alcohol is for the first time.”
The study showed that 43 percent of drivers tested in fatal vehicle collisions in the United States had used either a legal or illegal drug. According to the study, 37 percent of drivers tested had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
Marijuana was the most common drug detected. 9.3 percent of drivers who had their blood tested had amphetamines in their system and in many cases, drivers had multiple drugs in their system.
While the result of the study may be accurate, those who are suggesting that the results indicate that drugged driving causes more traffic fatalities than drunk driving is somewhat misleading.
The presence of alcohol in a person’s system does not necessarily mean that they are under the influence. However, the legislature has created a per se blood alcohol content limit of 0.08 because science has shown that the mental or physical abilities of those with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 are likely so impaired that they can no longer operate a vehicle with the caution of a sober person, using ordinary case, under similar circumstances.
Thus, while the study only tested whether drivers had a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or higher and not actual impairment, we know that if the driver had a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent or higher, they were also likely impaired.
Therefore, to conclude that more drugged drivers cause fatal vehicle collisions than drunk drivers is inaccurate. In other words, we cannot compare driving statistics of those with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 percent and those with drugs in their system.
Furthermore, drugs such as marijuana can stay in a person’s system for far longer than alcohol, sometimes for up to weeks at a time. Therefore, the likelihood of drugs being present in a person’s system, whether they used recently or not, is far higher than the likelihood of alcohol being present in a person’s system.
For once, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and I actually agree on something.
Like myself, MADD officials questioned the methodology of the results, noting that there is no scientifically agreed level of impairment with drugs such as marijuana.
Another of MADD’s concerns is that the study is leading people to believe that the country is doing better than we have been in terms of drunk driving.
“There is no way you can say drugs have overtaken alcohol as the biggest killer on the highway,” said J.T. Griffin, chief government affairs officer at MADD. “The data is not anywhere close to being in a way that would suggest that … We’re doing a lot of good things on drunk driving, but the public needs to understand this problem is not solved.”
According to NORML, with whom I tend to agree, the study merely reflects the increased detection of drugs and alcohol, but does not reflect any direct connection to fatal vehicle collisions.