One-third of the almost 14,000 drivers whose bodies were checked specifically for drugs after they died in crashes tested positive, according to a federal report that was used Thursday to renew a campaign against drugged driving.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy gleaned the statistics from 2009 federal highway fatality data. The new report said that narcotics and depressants were more likely to be found in the bodies of crash victims age 45 or older and that marijuana use was highest among those younger than 24. Forty-eight percent of dead drivers who tested positive for drugs also had been drinking.
“We already know the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol, and a growing body of research indicates that drugged driving is also a concern, especially for young drivers aged 15 to 20 who are at particularly high risk for traffic crashes,” said David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The study was released as the nation’s state highway safety officials urged state legislators to address drugged driving more aggressively. The release came on the eve of a White House summit on the issue scheduled for Friday.
“State and national data indicate that drugged driving is a growing problem that demands more attention,” said Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “As with drunk driving, a strong national-state partnership is necessary to make progress.”
The association recommended that states change their laws to provide separate and distinct penalties for alcohol- and drug-impaired driving and that they make drug testing of fatally injured drivers routine. Policies on testing crash victims for drugs vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
“Drugs have adverse effects on judgment, reaction time and motor skills,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy.
Federal officials said they would join Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in a campaign to raise public awareness about the danger of drugged driving.
“MADD is putting a face on these issues by launching a nationally coordinated effort to provide support to the . . . growing number of drugged driving victims,” said Jan Withers, the group’s national president.