By Brooke Chaplan, Special for USDR.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released two studies in February regarding trends in impaired driving. The first study was the latest version of the Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers. The first Survey was conducted in 1973, and has been conducted five times altogether over the last 40 years. The Survey is completely anonymous and voluntary. Researchers gather data from drivers at multiple sites around the country. There are signs announcing the presence of a survey site along the road and drivers have the option of stopping and participating or not. The NHTSA worked with research experts, privacy advocates, and law enforcement agencies to handle potential problems and refine techniques.
The Survey uncovered two large trends, one good and the other troubling. The good trend is a marked decline in drunk driving. The number of drivers with alcohol in their system has gone down by almost a third since 2007, and by over three-quarters since 1973. Unfortunately, the troubling trend is the number of people driving while high on marijuana or other drugs has increased. During the most recent survey, nearly a quarter of drivers tested positive for at least one drug. The number of weekend nighttime drivers with drugs in their system increased from 16.3 percent in 2007, to 20 percent in 2014. During that same time, the number of marijuana users jumped by 50 percent.
The other study concentrated on the risk of crashing in alcohol and marijuana users. The study was conducted in Virginia Beach for 20 months. The researchers gathered data from 3,000 drivers who had crashed and a control group of 6,000 drivers who had not. The study showed that drivers with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit of 0.08 percent were four times as likely to crash as sober drivers. The drunker someone was, the greater the chances of crashing: A driver with a blood alcohol level of 0.15 or above was 12 times as likely to be in a crash.
The survey found that marijuana users were also more likely to be involved in accidents, but the results were somewhat muddied by the fact that marijuana users also tended to belong to demographic groups that are known to at high risk for accidents. For example, many marijuana users are young men, a notoriously high-risk group for automobile accidents.
The NHTSA plans more studies about driving while on drugs. One study will take place in Washington State, where marijuana use is legal. The NHTSA will work with the National Institute on Drug Abuse to conduct a simulator study to see how drugs affect a driver’s behavior while they’re behind the wheel.
Hopefully with time we will be able to see where these trends lead and if it will effect laws in place for transportation and drug use in states all over. Impaired driving is a serious offense, as any Columbus DUI defense lawyer will tell you. What we have curbed with drunk driving may be able to happen with drug users behind the wheel in future as well.
Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.