Published: Fri, April 28, 2017
Health Care | By Gwendolyn Kim

Study finds more drivers killed under influence of drugs than alcohol

Study finds more drivers killed under influence of drugs than alcohol

The study included any substance that can impair driving, including illegal drugs, prescription medications, legal non-medicinal drugs and over-the-counter medicines. Unlike a Breathalyzer test to detect alcohol-impaired drivers, there is no standard roadside test to detect most drugs. "The new statistics mirror what the public is already feeling which is the dire threat to their safety posed by drugged driving".

A new report from the Governor's Highway Safety Association shows drugged driving has passed drunk driving as a cause of fatal crashes.

In the most recent national data available, which is from 2015, the Association reported drugs were present in the systems of 43 percent of people killed in USA highway accidents, a rate higher than alcohol at 37 percent.

"We're really rolling into an era where (drugged driving) is going to be more prevalent", Sgt. Ogden said. "Drug impairment has different signs and symptoms - think of the difference between uppers and downers". Marijuana can increase crash risk by 22 to 36 percent, according to studies cited in the report.

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On the operators' side, many drivers are ignorant about how drugs can impair their driving, and some may think they drive better while using marijuana, which is not true. Every state bans driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

"Whether it's drugs or whether it's alcohol, we know that impairment is a unsafe thing behind the wheel", said Maryland Motor Vehicle Administrator, Chrissy Nizer. Marijuana is not metabolized in the system in the same way as alcohol, so while a person with a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 or higher is considered too drunk to drive, it is not possible to say the same thing absent other evidence about a person testing positive for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana.

And here's the rub: Drugged driving, whether the motorist is high on marijuana or opiods, is hard to confirm because there are no roadside tests as there is for drunk driving detection. "The relationship between alcohol and crash risk has been known for 40 years".

In crashes where the driver died, 57 percent of drivers had their blood tested. Others may not believe drugs impair how they drive. For three hours Wednesday, experts came together to address some of the challenges of drugged driving in our state, like tracking incidents, finding resources and making sure people are informed.

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