Drugged Driving Stats Shouldn’t Detract from Ongoing Drunk Driving Scourge

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal in Maine, since it jeopardizes the safety and well-being of everyone on the road. It is true that the number of alcohol-fueled crashes has slid slightly in recent years, while the number of drug-related accidents has spiked, driven largely by the rising use of illicit and prescription opioids and the increasing availability of legal marijuana.

Still, as Maine Public Radio reports, people shouldn’t think this means alcohol use is no longer a serious issue on our roads.

Recently, the Governors Highway Safety Association released a report on the issue of drug-impaired driving. Drawing from the most recent 2015 data of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), the GHSA revealed drugs were present in 43 percent of all fatally injured drivers with known test results (which were 57 percent of the total). Meanwhile, alcohol was present in 37 percent of those cases. A roadside survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2014 found 22 percent of motorists on weekend nights and days were under the influence of drugs, most often marijuana. In solely looking at the headlines, one might think drugs are responsible for more traffic fatalities than alcohol. That’s actually not what the report says.

The report does say more drivers are testing positive for these drugs. However, since these substances remain in one’s system for varying lengths of time (unlike alcohol, which is processed quickly), it may be difficult to say in each case whether drug impairment is to blame.

It should be noted that the GHSA study was funded by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, which is a non-profit advocacy group against drunk driving and underage drinking – funded by the distilled spirits industry. That’s not to say we shouldn’t trust the results, but certainly the beverage industry would have cause to downplay the fact that drunk driving remains a serious problem in Maine.

The NHTSA reported last year that there were 10,265 people killed in alcohol-impaired crashes in which at least one driver had a blood-alcohol concentration of at least 0.08 or higher. That’s 29 percent of the total.

Specifically in Maine, of 156 traffic fatalities in 2015, 44 percent tested positive for some amount of alcohol. A total of 33 percent tested positive for a blood-alcohol concentration at or above the 0.08 percent threshold. That’s a marked increase from statistics from 2006, when officials reported 38 percent of drivers in fatal car accidents in Maine tested positive for alcohol, and 28 percent tested positive for at-or-above 0.08.

So drugged driving is a problem worth examining, but not at the expense of ignoring the issue of drunk driving.

The GHSA research further showed that of those aged 18 to 25, more than 22 percent of drivers tested positive in a single month for any illegal drugs, while more than 58 percent tested positive for alcohol. That figure can’t be considered complete because it fails to take into account the very real factor of “legal” drugs, such as prescription opioids.

While many people tend to think of prescription drugs as “safe,” the truth is they can impair psychomotor skills, cognitive functions, and reaction time. Combinations of drugs or drugs and alcohol are especially risky when it comes to driving performance. Furthermore, in looking to reduce drug-impaired driving, it’s important to bear in mind the ways in which medications and illicit drugs can present more complex issues than alcohol. For example:

  • Drug impairment may vary by type, while alcohol’s impairment outcomes are well-documented;
  • While alcohol consumption is decreasing, drug use is trending upward;
  • While young males on weekends are more likely to use alcohol, drug use is found across all ages and at all different times;
  • Drug diversity makes it difficult to pin down impairment in roadside sobriety and other tests, and many officers aren’t trained to identify a wide range of symptoms of drug impairment;
  • Too many drivers don’t believe drugs actually cause impairment.

If you are injured in an impaired-driving accident in Portland, it’s important to discuss your legal options with an experienced lawyer.

If you are a victim of a Portland car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Measuring Drug Impairment In Drivers Is Easier Said Than Done, May 5, 2017, By Katherine Hobson, Maine Public Radio

More Blog Entries:

Heroin-Induced Car Accident in Maine Prompts Rehab Order, March 29, 2017, Maine Accident Lawyer Blog

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