There are no nationally accepted devices and definitions defining drugged driving standards. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has called upon the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to write these standards. The request is for standards for devices police can use
on the side of a road for drug testing, how to recognize drug-impaired drivers before an accident occurs, and how to combat drug-impaired driving.
The time is ripe for this step, particularly in the opinion or much of the public. The nation and individual states are in crisis mode trying to decrease prescription drug abuse, accidental overdoses, and drugged driving. At the same time, a number of states have taken a more relaxed stance on sale and use of marijuana.
This request for drugged driving standards emerged from the NTSB’s investigation of an accident that occurred in rural Texas in 2017. In that tragic accident a drugged driver of a pickup truck collided with a church bus carrying a number of senior adults who were returning from a retreat. An eyewitness made a video that showed the pickup weaving on the road (onto the shoulders and across the double line) for 15 minutes. A number of other drivers also reported erratic driving to police. The accident caused 13 deaths.
According to the Fort Worth, TX Star-Telegram, “authorities alleged that [the driver of the pickup] had been intoxicated at the time of the collision. Court records said he took prescription pills before the crash (generic forms of Ambien and Lexapro, and Clonazepram), which he admitted made him sleepy.” Police also indicated that marijuana cigarettes were found in the pickup truck. [https://www.star-telegram.com/news/nation-world/national/article212284679.html]
The challenge for law enforcement officers across the country is that there is no consistent definition of drugged driving, nor is there a tool available to them for testing drivers. The request of the NTSB points to evidence of a “substantial increase” in drugged-driving deaths. “Of those drivers who died in accidents in 2006 and were tested for drugs, 30 percent were positive, according to NTSB. That number jumped to 46 percent in 2015. Further, according to the NTSB, “in random roadside testing, more than 22 percent of [all] drivers showed evidence of drug use, according to NHTSA data.” [https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2018/10/18/504928.htm]
According to NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, referring to the Texas accident, “The pick-up truck driver in this crash made terrible choices with tragic consequences. But the rising tide of drug-impaired driving did not begin with this driver, and it will not end with him. Law enforcement needs additional tools and advanced training to detect impaired drivers before they crash, regardless of the impairing drug they’re using.”
Specifically, the request included better training on how to spot drivers who may be impaired, an “oral fluid” drug test that can be used on the roadside, and specifications for the test that enables law enforcement to apply it consistently across all states.
NHTSA has begun to address this issue while it works on defining drugged driving standards. The Insurance Institute reports that an ad campaign that they launched in August to discourage drunk driving also addressed drugged driving. We eagerly await the next steps in ending drugged driving on our roadways.
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