Data indicates that drugged driving is on the rise in Pennsylvania, with both illicit and prescription drugs contributing to this problem.
The number of Pennsylvanians who endanger others by driving intoxicated has declined over the last decade, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. Unfortunately, alcohol is not the only substance that can prove to be dangerously impairing. Drivers who are under the influence of drugs also pose a sizable threat to other motorists. Troublingly, data suggests that the number of these drivers is only increasing.
Drug-impaired accidents increasing
According to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, both national and state data suggests that drugged driving is becoming a growing problem. Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reveal the following alarming trends:
- Nationwide, the proportion of people driving under the influence of drugs increased from 16 percent in 2007 to 22 percent in 2014.
- In Pennsylvania, accidents and fatalities involving drugs have increased substantially in recent years. In 2009, there were 2,773 reported accidents, which caused 108 fatalities. In 2013, at least 3,284 accidents occurred, claiming 147 lives.
- In all but two Pennsylvania counties, drugged driving accident and fatality rates increased from 2009 to 2013.
- In 2014 alone, Pennsylvania police arrested over 17,000 people for driving under the influence of drugs.
Alarmingly, illicit drug use is not the only reason for the increase in drugged driving. NHTSA data shows that, out of the 22 percent of drugged drivers, 12 percent take illegal drugs and 10 percent use prescriptions. Unfortunately, prescribed medications can be just as impairing as illicit drugs, especially when they are misused or abused.
Reducing drugged driving
Pennsylvania authorities have implemented various measures to reduce drugged driving. Police officers can undergo specialized training to become Drug Recognition Experts and more effectively detect driver intoxication. Drivers with any detectable level of illegal drugs in their blood can be charged with driving under the influence of drugs. This charge carries the same penalties as a DUI charge.
Still, there are limitations to both approaches. Relatively few officers have completed the DRE program. Between 2004 and April 2015, just 129 officers earned a DRE certification. Additionally, state law does not establish a legal limit for prescription drugs. Predicting the effects of these drugs can also be challenging. Authorities note that personal reactions, rather than the substance and dose, often determine whether a drug is impairing.
More officers are now receiving training to detect prescription or illegal drug use. Still, the problem of drugged driving may remain persistent, especially given ongoing increases in prescription drug use and abuse. As a result, drug-related motor vehicle accidents may affect many Pennsylvania residents this year.
Legal remedies may be available to people who have sustained injuries because of an intoxicated driver’s reckless actions. Driving while impaired by any substance is illegal, and as a result, it may be considered an inherently negligent act. To better understand their rights and options, injury victims may benefit from consulting with a personal injury attorney soon after their accidents.
Keywords: drugged, driving, accident, injury