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Impaired driving trends

A former doctor, impaired by the abuse of prescription drugs, killed a pregnant mother and her 10-year-old daughter in this crash.

Drugged driving is a safety issue of increasing public concern. Using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System for 1999-2010 (the most recent data available) for six U.S. states, it was found that drivers testing positive for drugs other than alcohol rose from 16.6 percent in 1999 to 28.3 percent in 2010. Positive results for alcohol remained stable at approximately 38 percent for the same time period. The increase in the prevalence of non-alcohol drugs was observed in all age groups and both sexes.

The most commonly detected non-alcohol drug was marijuana, which increased from 4.2 percent in 1999 to 12.2 percent in 2010. Considerable evidence from both real and simulated driving studies indicates that marijuana can negatively affect a driver’s attentiveness, reaction time, and perception of time and speed.

Use of any psychoactive (mind-altering) drug makes it highly unsafe to drive a car and is illegal - just like driving after drinking alcohol. Drugged driving puts at risk not only the driver but also passengers and others who share the road.

Young drivers are particularly at risk for being impacted by drugged driving, as supported by data on youth behaviors. A recent Monitoring the Future survey showed that nearly 28 percent of high school seniors, in the two weeks prior to the survey, had put themselves at risk by riding with a driver who had been using marijuana or another drug, or had drunk five or more alcoholic drinks.

The effects of specific drugs of abuse differ depending on how they act in the brain, but all impair abilities necessary for the safe operation of a vehicle. These abilities include motor skills, balance and coordination, perception, attention, reaction time, and judgment. Even small amounts of some drugs can have a measurable effect on one’s ability to drive safely.

It is hard to calculate the exact contribution of drug intoxication to driving accidents because blood tests for drugs other than alcohol are inconsistently performed, and many drivers who cause accidents are found to have both drugs and alcohol in their system, making it hard to determine which substance had the greater effect.

One NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) study found that in 2009, 18 percent of fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drug, an increase from 13 percent in 2005.

Many prescription drugs, including those prescribed for anxiety or sleep disorders, come with warnings against the operation of motor vehicles for a specified period of time after use. When prescription drugs are abused, impaired driving and other harmful reactions become much more likely.

Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse, StopDruggedDriving.org

Written by: Lisa Callaham
Posted: Dec 12, 2014 by Lisa Callaham

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