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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

One Third Of Drivers Killed In Collisions Had Drugs In Their System

A new study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveals that evidence of drug use in drivers has increased over the past five years. The study evaluated coroner reports on drivers who were fatally injured in car crashes in 2009 and compared the data to reports from previous years.

In 2009, 63% of drivers who were killed in crashes were tested for the presence of drugs in their system and in 8% of the cases the test results were ambiguous or unknown. That left 3,952 drivers or 33% with positive test results for drugs in their system. The results show that the number of drivers with positive test results for drugs has risen steadily from 28% in 2005 to 33% in 2009.

NHTSA was careful to point out that the evidence of drug use did not indicate whether or not the driver was impaired nor did it imply that the drug use caused the crash, only that drugs were present in the driver’s system.

The study looked for specific drug types including: "nar¬cotics, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, cannabinoids, phencyclidines (PCP), anabolic steroids, and inhalants." Alcohol and any drugs administered by medical personnel, prior to the driver's death, were not included in the study.

This study adds data to another NHTSA sponsored study conducted in 2007 in which drivers were stopped at random and asked to voluntarily provide blood and fluid samples. The results of that study showed that:

  • 11% of daytime drivers were driving with some sort of drug in their system.

  • 14.4% of night-time drivers were driving with some sort of drug in their system.

The 2007 survey also showed that, among those who showed evidence of illegal drugs in their system, there was also a higher incidence of alcohol use combined with those drugs.
Not all of the drugs tested are illegal. Stimulants and depressants are often prescribed by doctors for sleep disorders and psychological problems while steroids are prescribed for a variety of conditions. Narcotics are prescribed for chronic pain. The problems lie in the fact that drivers are often unaware that prescription and some over-the-counter, medications, primarily cold and allergy remedies, can impact their driving abilities.

Driver Education: Driving with a Cold or Flu

Some studies have also show that the prevalence of prescription marijuana laws in some states are leading many young people to believe that marijuana is a harmless drug and has little impact on their driving abilities when in fact, marijuana, just like alcohol, gives the user a false sense that their ability to drive or perform other complex tasks is greater than it actually is. Steroids and stimulants can make a driver nervous, edgy, and quick to anger which can lead to bad decisions and risky driving behavior.

States are having a hard time dealing with this issue and, in many cases, there are no specific laws to deal with a driver whose driving abilities may have been impaired by a legal prescription or over-the-counter medication. So, it is left up to the driver to ask their doctor or pharmacist what type of side effects a particular medication may have and how that medication may impact their driving abilities. Drivers who have a new medication prescribed to them should refrain from driving until they know exactly how that drug will affect them.

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