“It is past time when Congress treats drugged driving as seriously as it does drunk driving”, says We Save Lives founder, Candace Lightner. We Save Lives and its partner DUID Victim Voices ask Congress to help Stop Drugged Driving!
WSL and STOP DUID worked together to provide congressional members with a White Paper on Drugged Driving (DUID) that would provide the states with incentives to pass certain anti drugged driving measures. Read now: White Paper on Drugged Driving (DUID)
Drugged driving affects each of us at any given time of the day. At a NIDA conference (Drugged Driving: Future Research Directions), Dr. Mike Walsh noted that “Several studies in the United States and a collaborative US-EU project found that at least 35% of people stopped for erratic driving, drivers involved in a crash, and fatally injured drivers had at least one drug in their system, and many were under the influence of both drugs and alcohol.” NHTSA’s recent 2014 Roadside Survey  concluded that the number of drivers with alcohol in their system has declined by nearly one-third since 2007, and by more than three-quarters since the first Roadside Survey in 1973. But that same survey found a large increase in the number of drivers using marijuana or other illegal drugs.
Current laws, tools and training cannot cope with this growing problem:
- Drugged drivers frequently escape prosecution which means –
- No conviction which means –
- No punishment or accountability which means –
- No rehabilitation which means –
- No justice for the victim/survivor and
- No protection for society
This problem is not unique to America. Other countries, including New Zealand, Australia, Germany, France have implemented national drugged driving legislation, technologies and training. The latest country to act aggressively against drugged driving isBritain, which implemented drugged driving limits for sixteen drugs on March 2, 2015, after realizing that prosecution of DUID was only 2% of the rate of DUI alcohol, whereas its prevalence was 33% that of DUI alcohol. The British distinction is that they have the data to show the need for legislation. The United States doesn’t.
The United States has studied the problem for decades but has yet to take action. The latest study to identify DUID as a serious and growing problem is the GAO’s February 2015 report “Drug-impaired driving“. We rapidly accept legalization and commercialization of psychoactive drugs with no legal means to effectively provide for public safety or common sense. Colorado Governor Hickenloopercommented on Colorado’s legalization of marijuana, “If I could’ve waved a wand the day after the election, I would’ve reversed the election. This was a bad idea.” The results of these bad and costly decisions from our policy makers fall upon us, the innocent public, who suffer the devastating consequences on our roadways. Those of us who become victims and survivors of drugged driving experience an ongoing victimization, first by the drugged driver, then it continues with an ill-equipped and ineffective legal system unresponsive to our pleas.
DUID is not simply a problem of marijuana-impaired drivers. The 2007 National Roadside Survey  shows marijuana was the most common single drug found in drivers, followed by stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, then poly-use (more than one class of drug) and narcotic-analgesics like heroin and synthetic opioids. Dr. Christine Moore writes, “we have seen a large increase in heroin use recently probably because it is much cheaper than oxycodone.”
Perhaps more convincing than large scale studies of drug presence is a small scale study of drug impairment in drivers charged with DUI and either vehicular homicide or vehicular assault. DUID Victim Voices found that although marijuana was the most commonly cited drug in the 50 drugged drivers identified, marijuana was found alone in only 4% of that cohort of drugged drivers. Three-quarters of drugged drivers were on multiple drugs or drugs plus alcohol. After marijuana, the most common classes of drugs cited were stimulants, heroin and other opiate/opioids, and benzodiazepines.
As noted above, NHTSA and GAO report that the prevalence of driving under the influence of alcohol is gradually declining at the same time that the prevalence of drugged driving is increasing. 23 U.S Code 405 National priority safety programs addresses impaired driving, but all listed programs are specific to alcohol impairment. Multiple highway safety organizations including AAA(American Automobile Association) and GHSA (Governors Highway Safety Association) have all added drugged driving to their agenda. We Save Lives and DUID Victim Voices request revisions to 23 U.S Code §405 to provide incentives to States to implement technologies, practices and laws specifically directed at the measurement and deterrence of drugged driving.
The White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has identified drugged driving as a policy priority, and established a goal in the agency’s 2011 National Drug Control Strategy to reduce drugged driving 10 percent by 2015. This goal was not met. Concrete actions are needed to stop the cultural acceptance of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID). Concrete actions like national alcohol per se laws, administrative license revocation and incentives for ignition interlock devices address the DUI-alcohol epidemic. No similar actions or incentives have been put in place to deal with DUID.
Congress should support eight initiatives to stop DUID, some of which have already been adopted by various states, as listed inAppendix 1 – Reference Statutes. With one exception, initiatives are listed in order of proposed urgency. The exception is initiative #8, calling for zero tolerance laws for DUID. We expect that zero tolerance laws would have the largest impact in reducing drugged driving of all proposed initiatives. Unfortunately, we recognize that is also the most the difficult initiative to adopt.
- Separate DUI alcohol and DUID statute citation numbers. Not being able to distinguish drug-impaired from alcohol-impaired driving arrests in state records significantly impedes the States’ ability to assess the extent of drug-impaired driving and evaluate the impact of countermeasures. Lack of data may lead states like Washington to believe they address drugged driving by instituting per se laws for marijuana’s THC. The problem is far larger than that. Separate DUI and DUID citations have been recommended by NHTSA  and GHSA.
- Use oral fluid devices to quickly and more effectively test for drug presence, preferably at the roadside, as is done with breath testing for alcohol. Commercially available devices test for opiates like heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, cannabis, and other drugs.
- Implement mandatory testing of all (surviving and deceased) drivers involved in crashes that result in death or serious bodily injuries. Today’s lack of testing ensures DUID remains under-reported and often without resolution. For example, in 2013, 80% of Colorado’s deceased drivers were tested and reported to the Colorado Department of Transportation, but only 13% of survivingdrivers were tested and reported.
- Provide additional training for and use of Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) and officers trained in Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) since most officers are not qualified to identify drugged drivers.
- Reduce delays in collecting blood samples through the use of electronic warrants. A recent study in Colorado revealed that traditional warrants add an average of 1½ hour to the normal two hours required to collect a blood sample in cases of death or serious bodily injury. 90% of marijuana’s THC is cleared from the blood within the first hour after smoking, making blood test results irrelevant after such a delay.
- Enhance penalties for driving under the influence of combinations of drugs or drugs plus alcohol, recognizing that combinations of drugs can be more impairing than drugs individually. This is a strong NHTSA recommendation.
- Implement effective treatment programs such as the 24/7 sobriety program for chronic offenders of both alcohol and drugs.
- Adopt Zero Tolerance laws to facilitate drugged driving prosecution as alcohol per se laws do for drunk driving prosecution. Most states currently have zero tolerance for alcohol in minors, yet we hesitate to do that for illegal drugs. The Department of Transportation has a zero tolerance drug policy for employees involved in safety-sensitive positions such as commercial drivers. They are thus distinguished from per se level laws that attempt to define various drug concentrations in blood that prove brain impairment. Zero tolerance policies recognize that there is no level of any drug above which, everyone is impaired, and below which, no one is impaired. This is not due to a lack of research; it’s human biology. The impossibility of determining per se levels of all scheduled drugs becomes readily apparent when one considers the multiple thousand combinations of drugs that must also be considered. To deal with the concern of inappropriate arrests that could occur with zero tolerance enforcement, some jurisdictions sensibly limit application of zero tolerance laws to defendants that have been shown to be impaired by behavioralmeasures such as Standardized Field Sobriety Tests.
We request revisions to 23 U.S. Code §405 to provide incentives to States to implement the above initiatives to reduce drugged driving. Appendix 1 – Reference Statutes shows that the proposed initiates, far from being unrealistic, are already adopted in many locales.
The combination of all eight methods will act as a deterrent to drugged driving, and demonstrate that DUID will not be tolerated. Most importantly, they will provide the means to collect reliable and critical data that will enable States to measure the impact of their initiatives and develop effective long-term strategies to deal with this growing threat on our highways.
Specific Requested Action to Stop DUID
Revise 23 US Code § 405 (d) that specifies grants to States that implement impaired driving countermeasures. There are specific grants to States to reduce alcohol impairment (such as grants to adopt and enforce mandatory alcohol-ignition interlocks) but none for drugged driving impairment.
DUID is a growing problem made more acute by the alarming acceptance of recreational drugs and self-medication. This was brought home by a recent AAA survey that found “while two-thirds of those surveyed feel that those who drive after drinking alcohol pose a “very serious” threat to their personal safety, just over half feel the same way about drug use. Unfortunately, at any given moment, we share the road with an untold number of drugged drivers. Our experience with drunk driving shows we can address this problem. Why aren’t we doing the same with drugged driving?
The Institute for Behavior and Health estimates that 20% of traffic fatalities are attributable to drugged driving. Estimates are needed because no one measures DUID fatalities. It’s time to change that. It can be done at a modest expense obtained by either an additional appropriation, or reallocating current funds allocated to addressing impaired driving. It’s already identified as a National priority. It’s certainly a priority for DUID victims. It’s time to act.