NHTSA: Drugged Driving On The March

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
nhtsa drugged driving on the march

Drunk driving is often heralded as a model for government-led shifts in personal behavior, as the social taboo around drinking and driving has become stronger with time. But what about other drugs, both illegal and legal? Most drugs do not impair driving ability as obviously as alcohol, and intoxication is not always easy to spot… in fact, it’s not technically illegal to drive when taking a legal medication that may impair driving. As a result, NHTSA is noticing a distinct uptick in the number of positive tests for legal and illegal drugs performed on drivers who died in car wrecks.

According to data compiled by NHTSA, 63 percent of the 21,798 drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2009 were tested for drugs. Of these, 3,952 tested positive for drug involvement, representing 18 percent of the total for that year. The report also showed drug use reported by the states among fatally injured drivers increasing from 13 percent in 2005, to 15 percent in 2006, 16 percent in 2007, and 18 percent in 2008.

The drug data released today was collected by NHTSA as part of its Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and included information collected from the states under three broad categories: whether the driver was tested, the type of test conducted, and the test results. The types of drugs recorded in FARS include narcotics, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, cannabinoids, phencyclidines (PCPs), anabolic steroids, and inhalants. The groups include both illicit drugs, as well as legally prescribed drugs and over-the-counter medicines.

But as with most statistics, these can’t simply be taken at face value. NHTSA Administrator David Strickland explains

The results we are releasing today indicate that drugs were found to be present in post-mortem examinations. Drug involvement does not necessarily imply impairment or indicate that drug use was the cause of the crash. While it’s clear that science and state policies regarding drugs and driving are evolving, one fact is indisputable. If you are taking any drugs that might impair your ability to drive safely, then you need to put common sense and caution to the forefront, and give your keys to someone else. It doesn’t matter if its drugs or alcohol, if you’re impaired, don’t drive.

Which is all well and good in a Nancy Reagan kind of way, but the “evolving” nature of this problem is going to make it tough to attack with a simple “just say no.” Long-term, this is going to join Distracted Driving as a perennial windmill for the safety brigade to tilt at… and luckily the solutions don’t seem to involve surveillance or other intrusive measures. According to druggeddriving.org, a big part of the problem is related to problems with senior drivers, and the major solution is tough laws and treatment.

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4 of 12 comments
  • Jedchev Jedchev on Nov 30, 2010

    In my small circle of friends and relatives, there is a high percentage of people who take antidepressants. I understand that some people need them, but not the high percentage of the population who takes them. I wonder if they inhibit driving ability?

  • John Fritz John Fritz on Nov 30, 2010

    This and other studies like it are going to be used to give LE access to people's prescription drug purchase and use history. Or at the very least access to personal use information for drugs our government has deemed to be of the 'controlled' variety. Doubtless whatever draconian laws blossom from this will be expanded to encompass all pharmaceuticals and then all substances eventually. Insurance companies are gonna love this. So will all the people who profit from the Drunk Driving Punishment industry.

    • See 1 previous
    • FleetofWheel FleetofWheel on Nov 30, 2010

      Allowing the police to pull up your prescription history from your medical records will follow some heinous accident where a child is killed and will be named something like "Christy's Law". ATS and Redflex are probably developing a portable fast reading blood gas chromatography unit so the cop can map your blood during a traffic stop.

  • MaintenanceCosts This class of car competes hard with Chargers/Challengers and modded diesel pickups for the douchey-driving crown.
  • 28-Cars-Later Corey - I think I am going to issue a fatwa demanding a cool kids car meetup in July somewhere in the Ohio region.
  • Master Baiter Might as well light 50 $100 bills on fire.
  • Mike1041 At $300K per copy they may secure as much as 2 or 3 deposits of $1,000
  • Sgeffe Why on Earth can’t you just get the torque specs and do it yourself if you’re so-inclined?!