For the First Time, Drug-Impaired Driving Fatalities Exceed Drunk-Driving Deaths

July 6th, 2017 by Guajardo & Marks, LLP

When most people think of impaired driving, they tend to think about people driving under the influence of alcohol. However, in recent years, instances of drug-impaired driving have also been on the rise. In fact, one 2017 report by the Governors Highway Safety Administration (GHSA) found that, for the first time, traffic fatalities related to drug-impaired driving surpassed the number of deaths related to drunk driving. In this study, of the motorists who passed away as a result of their auto accident injuries, 43% were found to have at least one drug present in their system. On the other hand, only 37% of them were found with alcohol in their system.

Marijuana was the most common drug found in motorists’ systems following fatal traffic accidents, with 35% of the drug-positive tests finding some trace of marijuana. However, more than 50% of the positive tests were for “other drugs,” the specifics of which are not listed in the report.

Unique Challenges in Enforcing Impaired Driving Laws

With more drivers causing fatal traffic accidents while under the influence of drugs, it only makes sense that law enforcement officials across the United States should be cracking down on getting drug-impaired drivers off the road. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done. Currently, all states have strict laws against impaired driving, but setting regulations that outline what is considered “impaired” can be difficult—especially considering there is no simple way to test for drug impairment during a typical traffic stop.

For drivers under the influence of alcohol, a simple breathalyzer test can provide officers with a relatively accurate estimate of the driver’s blood alcohol level. Unfortunately, no such test exists for drug-impaired drivers. Instead, it is up to officers to be able to spot telltale signs of drug impairment. Still, in any given police department across the United States, only a small percentage of sworn officers are explicitly trained as drug-recognition experts. This makes getting impaired drivers off the road difficult for law enforcement agencies.

Combine this with the fact that more states have begun to legalize medicinal and recreational marijuana use, and setting the bar for what constitutes “impaired” driving is even more difficult.

Hopefully, further research on drug-impaired driving and new findings on the prevalence of drug-impaired driving (such as the GHSA report) will push lawmakers to enact more specific traffic laws that police are better able to enforce. In doing so, it may be possible to get more impaired drivers off the streets before they cause more fatal accidents.

Avoiding Impaired Driving Dangers

Unfortunately, as long we drivers have to share the road, there is no fail-proof way to protect oneself against impaired drivers. However, being able to spot signs of impaired driving (inability to stay in the lanes, sudden acceleration and slowing down, etc.) and calling 9-1-1 if you suspect you see an impaired driver on the street are great ways to protect yourself and others. Never follow a driver that you believe to be impaired; instead, note the vehicle’s direction of travel and a description of the car to police. And of course, never consume drugs or alcohol if you have any intentions of getting behind the wheel.

If you have been injured in an auto accident, having the right legal guidance and representation can make all the difference in the world. Contact our team today for the help you need with your case.