With more people on the road than ever before – including pedestrians and bicyclists -- it has never been more important for all road users to be sober and solely focused on safe travel. But two developments in the past decade have set back these traffic safety goals: increased drug-impaired driving and increased cell phone use while driving.
Research has shown that over 90% of fatal traffic crashes involve human error. The worst mistake a driver can make is being behind the wheel in an impaired condition. According to a Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report, 44% of drivers killed in crashes in 2016 tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter drugs. That is a dramatic increase from the 28% testing positive in 2006. More than half of these drivers had marijuana, opioids, or both, in their system. The number of drivers killed in crashes who tested positive for marijuana doubled from 2007 to 2015.
It’s not just hard-core illegal drug users causing drug-impaired traffic crashes. Or users of marijuana products that have become more easily available in recent years. Legal drugs, including prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, can cause a driver to be illegally impaired. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautions consumers that certain medicines, including some available over-the-counter, can impair the ability to drive safely by causing sleepiness, blurred vision and other side effects.
DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is spearheading several initiatives and working with partners and stakeholders to reduce drug-impaired driving. NHTSA Acting Administrator Heidi King is hosting meetings around the country to promote best practices among law enforcement, prosecutors, toxicologists, judges, and others. On February 27, Heidi and the NHTSA team will be at the National Press Club with GHSA and AAA officials for a Drug-Impaired Driving Policy Forum focused on prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Last fall, NHTSA launched a new public awareness campaign: “If you feel different, you drive different: Drive high, get a DUI.” NHTSA is also providing grant funding to support Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement and Drug Recognition Expert training.
Decades of experience in highway safety have proven that public service educational campaigns, backed by tough laws and effective enforcement, can change behavior and save lives. And that’s heartening because America’s roads need to be safer. Motor vehicle crashes in America in 2017 killed 37,133 people, including 5,977 pedestrians and 783 bicyclists. Every year in our nation, nearly 3,000,000 adults and children are injured in traffic crashes, many so seriously their lives will never be the same. The annual economic cost of motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. is over $240 billion.
Statistics cannot measure the emotional pain and anguish of those whose loved ones perish, or are injured. Far too many know what this kind of loss feels like. These are preventable tragedies. So let’s all do our part to prevent them from occurring in the future. Drive sober and drive safe.