Pot, Opioids Now Rival Alcohol as Factor in Driver Deaths

The report found that 38 percent of the drivers killed tested positive for marijuana, 16 percent were positive for opioids and 4 percent had a combination of both. To combat these misbeliefs, he thinks states need to toughen impaired driver laws as well as increase public education of drugged driving issues.

A new report published Thursday found that fatal vehicle crashes involving marijuana, opioids and drug use have increased over the past decade and surpassed incidents related to alcohol.

For example, there is no nationally-accepted method for testing driver drug impairment; there are an unwieldy number of drugs to test for; and different drugs have different impairing effects in different drivers.

According to Jim Hedlund, a former senior official with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "Drugs can impair, and drug-impaired drivers can crash".

Behrens believes that is a good thing, even though a number of other states have passed laws that set five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood as the standard for determining whether a driver is marijuana-impaired. Meanwhile, 44 percent of "fatally-injured drivers" tested positive for drugs, a statistic up 28 percent from 2006.

The new GHSA report found 49 percent of drivers in a fatal vehicle crash were under the influence of both alcohol and other drugs, seeming to suggest the simultaneous use of several drugs is on the rise.

Experts say identifying and testing a driver for drugs can be hard.

Ralph Blackman is president and CEO of Responsibility.org, a foundation that promotes responsible use of alcohol.

In Pennsylvania, there's been a drop in drunk driving arrests, but an increase in those involving drugs.

To help stop drugged driving, the Governors Highway Safety Association and Responsibility.org joined forces to train almost 1,000 police officers to recognize and deter drugged drivers.

These training tools - Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) - teach law enforcement the signs and symptoms of impairment by different categories of drugs. Thus far, there is no standard test for drivers under the influence of marijuana or opioids, making the cause of the accident hard to determine.

"Too many people operate under the false belief that marijuana or opioids don't impair their ability to drive, or even that these drugs make them safer drivers", Jonathan Adkins, GHSA executive director, said in an association news release.

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