Report aims to shift focus of impaired driving to drug use

WASHINGTON — More fatally-injured drivers are testing positive for drugs than alcohol, according to recent findings from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

The D.C.-based nonprofit group, which represents state and territorial highway safety offices according to its website, aims to boost awareness of drug-impaired driving and has released an updated report of their findings Wednesday.

“The motoring public often has a cavalier attitude toward smoking pot and driving,” said Kara Macek, GHSA’s senior director of communications and programs.

“While it might not impair in the same way that alcohol does, it certainly impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.”

Forty-three percent of fatally-injured drivers with a known test result tested positively for drugs, according to the GHSA report. Findings were based on the most recent data available, which is from 2015.

“Whether it’s prescription, over-the-counter, legal or illegal — any drug can impair,” Macek said. “When it says ‘do not operate heavy machinery,’ it really means ‘don’t drive a car.'”

She said state laws covering drug-impaired driving and pot vary widely since “there’s no real easy way to measure impairment like blood alcohol concentration.”

“We’d like to see scientific evidence that could figure out a clear threshold for pot,” she added.

Law enforcement officials often don’t have the tools, or resources, or training necessary to fight the problem, according to Macek.

“It’s really a finely-tuned skill that law enforcement need to be able to go out and detect these drivers and arrest them at the scene,” she said.

The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility and GHSA are partnering to give grants to train law enforcement as drug-recognition experts.

Average drivers could help by adjusting their attitudes.

“We need public awareness and education,” Macek said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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