California Drivers are Causing More Crashes

More and more drugged drivers are becoming involved in fatal crashes in California.

We’ve written about the costs of NOT quitting drinking actually being much higher than the cost of treatment.

We’ve also written about the incredibly strong punishment for 3rd DUI in California.

But none of this is seeming to change people’s attitudes toward drinking and driving.

According to figures recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 30 percent of all drivers who were killed in accidents in 2010 in California were found to be under the influence of one or more legal or illegal drugs.  Many additional accidents were probably caused by drugged drivers who survived and were not tested.

At the same time that the problem of drugged drivers is growing, the number of people killed or injured by drunk drivers is on the decline across the U.S.  Experts attribute this to the campaign against drunk driving and strict laws that send repeat drunk drivers to jail.  In contrast, there is limited public awareness about the dangers of drugged driving.

All types of drugs can impair driving, from illegal stimulants and narcotics to prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Despite the fact that marijuana has been legalized for medical purposes in California and several other states, it also causes serious driver impairment.  Drivers who are under the influence of drugs experience impaired motor skills, reaction time, memory and judgment.  Impairment is heightened when alcohol is used in combination with marijuana and other drugs.

Although statistics show an increase in traffic fatalities due to drugged driving, California lawmakers have not yet enacted legislation similar to DUI laws.  This is due in part to the fact that roadside tests for drug impairment are not available.  With alcohol, a breathalyzer test can quickly reveal a driver’s blood alcohol level and determine if it is within the legal limit for driving.  Similar tests and legal limits are not available for legal and illegal drugs.

The California Office of Traffic Safety and the Highway Patrol are teaming up to provide officers with additional training to help identify and arrest drug-impaired drivers. Local police departments are encouraged to send officers to training to become Drug Recognition Experts (DREs).  There are currently more than 1,000 DREs in the state.  These experts are used at DUI checkpoints to detect drivers who are under the influence of drugs.  In addition, Sacramento and Orange Counties were recently given federal funding to be used for additional drug testing equipment.

In 2010, six California cities conducted roadside tests that involved drivers who voluntarily provided oral fluids for anonymous testing. The results of the tests showed that 8.4% of drivers tested positive for marijuana compared to 7.6% who tested positive for alcohol.  This is one clear indicator of the magnitude of California’s drugged driver problem.

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