Earlier this week, Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), called attention to the alarmingly high percentage of fatalities on our Nation's roadways involving drivers that had drugs in their system and called on communities to act immediately to prevent drug use before it starts in light of a new traffic fatality analysis released by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).
While national data focusing on the danger of driving under the influence of alcohol is readily available and often cited, less is known or discussed about drivers under the influence of other drugs. However, according to the first-ever analysis of drug involvement from NHTSA's Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) census, one in three motor vehicle fatalities (33 percent) with known drug test results tested positive for drugs in 2009. Additionally, according to the new analysis, the involvement of drugs in fatal crashes has increased by five percent over the past five years, even as the overall number of drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States has declined.
These new data from NHTSA's FARS census reports the presence of narcotics, depressants, stimulants, cannabinoids (marijuana), hallucinogens PCP, anabolic steroids, and inhalants among drivers fatally injured in car crashes over the past five years. Drugs recorded in FARS include illegal substances as well as over-the-counter and prescription medications, which may or may not have been misused. Alcohol, nicotine, aspirin, and drugs administered after the crash are excluded from these results. Additionally, drug involvement means that drugs were found in the driver's system and does not imply impairment or indicate that drug use was the cause of the crash. However, research shows that drugs have adverse effects on judgment, reaction time, motor skills, and memory—critical skills for safe and responsible driving.