CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Identifying drugged drivers, as opposed to drunk drivers, can sometimes be difficult for law enforcement officers and the numbers of drugged drivers on the roads are climbing, according to information from the Governors Highway Safety Association.
“We have a drug crisis in this country. I think that’s clearly evident and it’s impacting traffic safety,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the nonprofit organization representing state highway safety offices across the United States.
In the most recent national data available, which is from 2015, the Association reported drugs were present in the systems of 43 percent of people killed in U.S. highway accidents, a rate higher than alcohol at 37 percent.
It’s the first time drugged driving has surpassed drunk driving in the report.
“That’s only from known test results,” noted Adkins. “Unfortunately, a lot of times, for a host of reasons, we don’t get either any test results or we don’t get accurate test results and so this is an underreported problem.”
West Virginia is one of five states that will share in grant funding totaling $100,000 to be spent on increased training in impaired driving for law enforcement officers.
The other states receiving the funding for 2017 include Illinois, Montana, Washington and Wisconsin.
Each state will use their share of the funding from Responsibility.org, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, to implement Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement training and Drug Recognition Expert programs.
“There’s not a quick and easy test to determine impairment by drugs,” said Adkins, a Fayette County native, on Wednesday’s “Talkline.”
Currently in West Virginia, he told Hoppy Kercheval, only about 30 law enforcement officers have highly-detailed training in the identification of drugged driving.
Hundreds of different drugs can impair drivers; some drugs that can impair driving are illegal to use, some are legal to use under certain conditions and some are freely available over-the-counter; data on drug presence in crash-involved drivers are incomplete and it’s harder for law enforcement officers on roadsides to detect drug impairment than alcohol impairment, Adkins said.
For some drugs, the relations between a drug’s presence in the body, its effects on driving and its effects on crash risks are complex, not understood well or vary from driver to driver.
“It’s not just doing marijuana, it’s mixing it with alcohol, mixing it with Xanax, so that’s really the big challenge,” Adkins said. “In West Virginia, it’s not just one or two drugs, it’s more like four or five drugs that people in the state are using and then getting behind the wheel.”
Laws dealing with driving under the influence of drugs vary across the states and, Adkins noted, it’s more difficult to prosecute and convict a driver for drug-impaired driving (DUID) than for alcohol-impaired driving (DUI).
“As states across the country continue to struggle with drug-impaired driving, it’s critical that we help them understand the current landscape and provide examples of best practices so they can craft the most effective countermeasures,” Adkins said.
See the full report, Drug Impaired Driving: A Guide for States, HERE.