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‘Impairment is impairment’: Study finds drugs about on par with alcohol as cause of fatal crashes

drug impaired driving
Photo: Governors Highway Safety Association

Washington — Drugged driving – particularly involving marijuana and opioids – is now a substantial factor in fatal crashes, according to a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org).

Examining data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, researchers found that 44 percent of drivers killed in crashes in 2016 tested positive for illegal, prescription or over-the-counter drugs, up from 28 percent in 2006. Thirty-eight percent of the drivers had marijuana in their systems, 16 percent had opioids and 4 percent tested positive for both.

Over that same period, the number of drivers killed in crashes who tested positive for alcohol dropped to 38 percent from 41 percent, the researchers said.

“Too many people operate under the false belief that marijuana or opioids don’t impair their ability to drive, or even that these drugs make them safer drivers,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a May 31 press release. “Busting this myth requires states to expand their impaired driving campaigns to include marijuana and opioids, along with alcohol, to show drivers that impairment is impairment, regardless of substance.”

The report also found that 49 percent of drivers killed in crashes who tested positive for alcohol also tested positive for drugs.

“Alcohol-impaired driving and drug-impaired driving can no longer be treated as separate issues,” Responsibility.org President and CEO Ralph Blackman said in the release.

The report states that “the basic components of and strategies for addressing impaired driving are the same for alcohol and drugs: convincing drivers not to drive while impaired, detecting an impaired driver, observing and recording behavioral evidence of impairment consistent with alcohol or a drug, obtaining chemical evidence of alcohol or drugs, and assessing and treating alcohol or drug dependence or addiction.”

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