On August 15, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a national drugged driving ad campaign with a stern message: “Drive high, get a DUI.”
The goal of the campaign, which ran through September 3, was to spread awareness of the dangers of drugged driving. A recent Governors Highway Safety Association study had found that in 2016, approximately 44% of motorists tested after being killed in collisions had drugs in their system. A decade ago, the figure was 28%, suggesting that the situation is more prevalent now.
What the Study Says
The study also stated that out of these fatalities:
- 38% tested positive for some type of marijuana
- 16% were found to have opioids in their system
- 4% tested positive for both opioids and marijuana
Some experts have taken the position that the recent legalization of marijuana use has contributed to the increase in drug-impaired driving. The NHTSA did not announce any training programs or policy proposals to combat the issue, opting instead to make education the priority in its ad campaign.
Over a year before, in April 2017, CNN covered the results of a report prepared and released by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. The report’s findings included:
- Driving while on drugs was a factor in more road-related deaths in 2015 than driving drunk
- 43% of drivers killed in collisions had drugs in their system while 37% tested positive for alcohol
Drugged Driving Summit
This issue has concerned Maine policymakers and law enforcement for some time. In May 2016, members of Maine law enforcement converged on Portland for a summit on drugged driving. While alcohol remains the primary intoxicant for impaired drivers, guest speakers at the event, which was hosted by the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety and AAA Northern New England, warned that more drivers are using prescription drugs, marijuana, and heroin.
The summit took place at a time when state law enforcement was facing a sharp rise in heroin use. (There were 272 fatal overdoses in Maine the year before.) Certain prescription medications were also a concern, particularly because an estimated 70 million pills were prescribed across the state in 2015. Experts also warned that eight out of 10 Maine drivers over the age of 65 take medication regularly and 69% take pills known to impair driving ability.
A public hearing had previously been held in Augusta on a proposal to set a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per 100 ml of blood to determine when someone is driving under the influence of marijuana. (For drivers under 21, the proposed limit was zero.) If it had been approved, Maine would have joined Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington in setting specific limits for THC; however, the proposal was rejected by the House.
Testing for Impairment
The Maine Bureau of Highway Safety reports on its website that a number of police officers throughout the state have been trained to detect the presence of drugs in impaired drivers. The Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, or DEC for short, gives Drug Recognition Experts the ability to complete a systemic evaluation that includes the assessment of:
- Blood pressure
- Psychomotor function
Critics suggest that testing for drug-related impairment is more difficult and the results are less conclusive than testing for alcohol levels. The chair of the drug recognition expert section of the International Association of Chiefs of Police said that these are common misconceptions. He confirmed that around 10,000 police officers across the U.S. have been specially trained as drug recognition experts. In Maine, the testimony of an officer certified as a drug recognition expert is admissible on the issue of operating under the influence of an intoxicant.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Traffic safety professionals, police officers, and prosecutors warn that more education is needed about drugged-driving and the danger it represents to Maine pedestrians and other motorists. If you’ve been seriously injured in an accident with an impaired driver, contact Fales & Fales, P.A.
Our firm’s reputation is built on a century of treating clients with respect and compassion and securing excellent results for them during settlement negotiations and at trial. Let us earn your trust and hold the other motorist accountable so that you get the compensation needed to heal and recover.