Pubdate: Sun, 08 Feb 2015
Source: Garden Island (Lihue, HI)
Copyright: 2015 Associated Press
Author: Joan Lowy, Associated Press


Survey Finds DUI Rate Down but 22 Percent of Drivers on Drugs That 
Can Affect Safety

WASHINGTON (AP) - The number of drivers on the road with alcohol in 
their systems has declined by nearly one-third since 2007, but there 
has been a large increase in drivers using marijuana and other 
illegal drugs, a government report released Friday found.

The report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said 
the share of drivers who test positive for alcohol has declined by 
more than three-quarters since the agency first began conducting 
roadside surveys in 1973.

But the latest survey, conducted in 2013 and 2014, also found that 22 
percent of drivers tested positive for at least one drug that could 
affect safety. That includes illegal drugs as well as prescription 
and over-the-counter medications.

The anonymous surveys have been conducted five times over the last 40 
years. They gather data in dozens of locations across the country 
from drivers who agree to participate.

Mark Rosekind, head of the safety administration, credited anti-drunk 
driving efforts for the decline in drivers who test positive for 
alcohol, but said "there is no victory as long as a single American 
dies in an alcohol-related crash."

About 8 percent of drivers during weekend nighttime hours were found 
to have some alcohol in their system, and 1.5 percent were found with 
.08 percent or higher breath alcohol content - the legal limit in 
every state. Drivers with any alcohol in their systems and drivers 
testing greater than .08 were both down by about 30 percent from the 
previous survey in 2007. Both groups are also down by more than 
three-quarters since the first survey in 1973.

At the same time, more than 15 percent of drivers tested positive for 
at least one illegal drug, up from 12 percent in 2007. The number of 
drivers with marijuana in their systems grew by nearly 50 percent 
over the same period of time, 8.6 percent in 2007 to 12.6 percent in 2014.

"The rising prevalence of marijuana and other drugs is a challenge to 
everyone who is dedicated to saving lives and reducing crashes," 
Rosekind warned.

A second survey, the largest of its kind, assessed the comparative 
risk of drunk and drugged driving. The study was conducted in 
Virginia Beach, Virginia, over a 20-month period and involved the 
collection of data from more than 3,000 drivers involved in a crash, 
and more than 6,000 crash-free drivers for comparison.

That survey found that marijuana users are more likely to be involved 
in accidents, but that the increased risk may be due in part because 
marijuana users are more likely to be part of demographic groups at 
higher risk of crashes generally. In particular, marijuana users are 
more likely to be young men - a group already at high risk.

"Drivers should never get behind the wheel impaired, and we know that 
marijuana impairs judgment, reaction times and awareness," said Jeff 
Michael, the agency's associate administrator for research and 
program development.

One complication to assessing crash risk by drivers who have used 
marijuana is that it can be detected in the human body for hours and 
sometimes days after the high from smoking has dissipated.

Other studies have shown that a marijuana high typically peaks within 
30 minutes and is gone within about three hours after ingestion.

But unlike with alcohol, drivers high on pot tend to be aware that 
they are impaired and try to compensate by driving slowly, avoiding 
risky actions such as passing other cars, and allowing extra room 
between vehicles.

On the other hand, combining marijuana with alcohol appears to 
eliminate the pot smoker's exaggerated caution and to increase 
driving impairment beyond the effects of either substance alone.
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