Results from a study conducted by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility examining 2015 data reveal that for the first time ever, fatally injured drivers were more likely to test positive for drugs than for the presence of alcohol. Among drivers tested, 43% were under the influence of drugs, while 37% of motorists who died who tested positive for alcohol.
Driving under the influence of alcohol is prohibited in all 50 states. 49 states have a uniform threshold for testing for alcohol impairment, a blood alcohol level of .08 (Utah will be lowering their threshold to. 05 when a recently passed law goes into effect). However, the regulation of drugged driving is not uniform. Drug testing practices vary from state to state, and there is no uniform method of testing, or even which drugs to test for.
The most commonly found drug was marijuana- it accounted for 35% of positive reports. 9% of the substances found were amphetamines, while over half were classified as "other drugs". In addition to the disparities in detecting driving under the influence of drugs, there are also significant disparities regarding the treatment of the most common substance behind drugged driving fatalities: marijuana.
Recommendations for Combatting Drugged Driving
The report detailed proposed recommendations for the agencies responsible for detecting intoxicated driving. These included an increase in training not only for law enforcement officers on the ground but also for prosecutors and judges. The report notes that unlike alcohol, there are fewer tools in the field for detecting drugged driving, which required additional action from judges in order to adjudicate these cases.
Additionally, the study authors recommend that states become more proactive when it comes to creating regulations around marijuana. They encourage state governments to work collaboratively with other states, especially when it comes to states which have legal recreational marijuana, which includes Oregon and Washington. The study also encourages state governments to be proactive rather reactive in terms of marijuana- that they should be looking at the next potential stage of legalization, be it medical or recreational.
The researchers also emphasize the importance of working with a broad coalition of stakeholders- law enforcement should not only interface with prosecutors, judges, and organizations opposing legalization, but also treatment providers, researchers, public health officials, pharmacists, drug manufacturers, and groups which support legalization of marijuana. The team also recommends that individuals charged with driving under the influence are screened for any co-occurring mental health issues, and that offender drug problems are handled through drug courts, intensive supervision, and drug treatment
Rather than rely solely on a punitive approach (such as establishing harsher penalties for driving under the influence of drugs) a collaborative approach that includes input from treatment providers could guide states in a more effective effort to curb drugged driving. Multiple studies have confirmed that taking a treatment-oriented approach to substance abuse is much more effective than punitive approach, and consistently demonstrates positive results such as lower recidivism rates.
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