by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
Driving under the influence of illegal drugs is a serious national problem. A recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates that nine million (9,000,000) Americans drive under the influence of illegal drugs each year.
Furthermore, the estimate of 9,000,000 drugged drivers is almost certainly too low. A survey in Florida found that about a third of all people stopped for erratic driving or speeding who failed a field sobriety test were impaired by illegal drugs.
It appears, however, that few drugged drivers are apprehended. If people have both consumed alcohol and used illegal drugs they are typically charged only with an alcohol offense.
In only eight states it illegal to drive with measurable amounts of an illegal drug in the bloodstream. Even in those few states the number of convictions is very small.
The report calls for all states to pass criminal laws prohibiting the presence of illegal drugs in a driver's body.
The number of traffic injuries and deaths caused by both drugged and drowsy drivers may well equal or exceed that those caused by drunk drivers. And while it is still much too high, the number of traffic fatalities caused by drunk drivers has dropped dramatically over time.
Recognizing that thousands of lives are lost each year because of drugged driving, the federal government has begun efforts to reduce the problem. And the problem is big -- about one of every five drivers killed is under the influence of illegal drugs, according to NHTSA.
filed under: Drinking and Driving