National drugged driving deaths surpassed drunk driving deaths for the first time ever back in 2015, according to recent information released by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility
According to an article published by the Washington Post on April 26, 43 percent of drivers tested in fatal crashes in 2015 "had used a legal or illegal drug, eclipsing the 37 percent who tested above the legal limit for alcohol "
Of the "drugged drivers" a third had used marijuana while over 9 percent had used amphetamines.
The Washington Post article notes that the increase in fatal drugged driving cases began right around the same time certain states began relaxing their marijuana prohibition laws.
Of course, this wraps it up for marijuana legalization. Sorry, stoners, not in this America.
Not so fast. Disputing the GHSA's figures, or at least the conclusions drawn from them by the national media, is Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which release a statement this week.
We were surprised, too. Lest anyone think MADD has become weirdly protective of drunk driving as a leading cause of preventable death in the United States, the group does note that in 2015 it expanded its mission to address drugged driving as well as drunk driving.
According to the MADD statement, the Governors highway association numbers don't necessarily mean there were more drugged driving deaths than drunk driving deaths. In cases where tests results weren't collected, statistical models are used. Data collection procedures varies from place to place. According to MADD, if alcohol data were collected in every instance, the drunk driving death totals would be even higher.
The data collection methods may also be giving more weight to drugged driving.
"The presence of drugs found in a driver's system does not mean impairment, nor does it imply that drug use was the cause of the crash," says MADD. "Drug tests may not reflect recent use, but use days ago. Currently, there is no way to distinguish presence of drugs and impairment."
"We still know that alcohol is a drug, and is the leading killer on the highway. One third of deaths are due to drunk drivers — those with illegal BACs of .08 percent or higher," said MADD National President Colleen Sheehey-Church.
The Washington Post article makes one thing clear, that few things are clear when it comes to drunk/drugged driving. Figures collected in Europe show marijuana only slightly raises the risk of a crash, while "opioids, amphetamines and mixing alcohol with drugs greatly increased the risk of a crash." The paper notes this is offset by data from Colorado showing "marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 48 percent after the state legalized recreational use of the drug."
Let's not forget the fact that since 1982, drunk driving fatalities in the US have decreased by 51 percent. This is according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org). There's probably more than a few different reasons for this, but one that shouldn't be left out in light of recent legalization talk is that of public education.
It's just not cool to drink and drive anymore, folks.
For decades now we've been bombarded by anti-drunk driving public service announcements. Same with cigarette smoking, which is also showing declines amongst teenagers.
What's clear is that public education and outreach works while prohibition doesn't.
This week, the House will have a chance to do the right thing and advance a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over and allow for small home-grows. VT Digger reports that H. 170 has been voted out of the House Human Services Committee with a vote of 5 in favor, 4 opposed, and 2 absent.
We’re not holding out much hope for the bill’s ultimate survival, but wouldn’t it be nice if the Legislature gave the black market a black eye and perhaps paved the way for a regulated, taxed market that would help fund public education programs that actually work?