A study from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) says that the 2015 statistics for fatal crashes showed that 43 percent of drivers tested positive for legal or illegal drugs, while 37 percent of them tested above the legal limit for alcohol.
The GHSA then called on states to increase their law enforcement training efforts to include spotting and detaining drivers who have been using drugs like marijuana and opioids.
Opioid use and abuse are a nationwide epidemic, and marijuana is being legalized for both medical and recreation purposes in an ever-increasing number of states.
The report used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatal Analysis Reporting System (FARS).
Surprisingly, the advocacy group Mother Against Drunk Driving (MADD) spoke out against the study. The chief government affairs officer emphasized that, “there is no way that drugs have overtaken alcohol as the biggest killer on the highway.” The group feels that there is still much work to be done, and that the problem of drunk driving is far from solved.
One of the issues that MADD expressed when speaking out against the GHSA study was the problem of determining impairment when dealing with positive drug tests in drivers. Unlike measuring blood alcohol numbers, there is no specific number that shows a driver’s level of drug-related impairment.
Testing for drug use in drivers, where impairment due to drugs is suspected, is also not uniform; nor is there a roadside test that can be used as a breathalyzer would be for drunk drivers.
THC, the chemical compound in cannabis that causes the high users experience, may remain in the body for weeks, but it dissipates from the bloodstream quickly.
The chief government affairs officer expressed skepticism about the GHSA study, noting that it was underwritten by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. The foundation includes, among its members, Bacardi USA, the makers of Jack Daniels Whiskey, Brown-Forman, and also the owners of Corona Beer, Constellation Brands.
Both Alcohol and Drugs are Driving Impairment Concerns
MADD suggested that these makers of alcoholic beverages may want to shift the attention away from drunk driving to drugged driving.
The independent consultant who produced the report for the GHSA said that MADD’s criticism is unwarranted, given that they are on the same side of the issue when it comes to driving while impaired. In 2015 MADD widened its mission to include the fight against drug-impaired driving, as well as drunk driving.
The consultant went on to say that the report only states what the data says. Namely, that there were more dead drivers who tested positive for drug use than there were dead drivers who had alcohol in their blood. The consultant said the report did not use that information to conclude if the fatal crashes were actually caused by the drugs or the alcohol.
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