Wilmington – In an exclusive AAA Mid-Atlantic poll, nearly two-thirds of Delaware drivers say they consider someone driving after using illegal drugs a “very serious” threat to their safety, but only 26 percent are aware that Delaware has the ninth-highest drug overdose death rate in America.
“Drugged driving is a problem that is quickly – and somewhat quietly – surpassing drunk driving as a major highway safety threat. It’s not just illegal drugs. It’s illegal drugs plus prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications – especially when combined with alcohol – can significantly impair driving,” said Cathy Rossi, Vice President of Public & Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “We see a growing threat on the road triggered by the use and abuse of legal and illegal substances and we’re conducting research to better understand what’s happening with drug-impaired driving and what we can do about it. Getting people to talk about it is a first step. That’s why we’re starting a public conversation on the issue.”
Surprisingly, the poll of more than 700 licensed drivers in Delaware revealed that motorists have quickly grasped the dire threat to their safety posed by others driving under the influence of illegal drugs. This is especially significant when considering the number of years it took to change social perceptions about the dangers posed by drinking and driving.
|Drivers who drink alcohol
|Drivers who use illegal drugs
|Drivers who use prescription drugs
|Very Serious Threat
|Somewhat Serious Threat
|Minor Threat/No Threat/Not
|AAA commissioned a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling, which surveyed 709 licensed Delaware drivers (margin of error is +/- 4%).
AAA survey findings include:
- Nearly 70 percent were “very concerned” (43 percent) or “somewhat concerned” about the dangers posed by other drivers under the influence if marijuana was legalized for recreational use.
- Only 36 percent correctly identify drug overdoses as the leading cause of death in Delaware when asked to choose among overdoses, traffic crashes, shootings and falls.
- Only 26 percent knew Delaware has more incidents of drug overdoses than 41 other states; 48 percent think Delaware has about the same number of drug overdoses as other states, 18 percent think Delaware has fewer incidents.
“Whether it’s alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription medication, driving while impaired can lead to severe property damage, serious injuries, and preventable fatalities,” said Rossi. “As an advocate for traffic safety, AAA is conducting research to better understand drug-impaired driving and educating the public and stakeholders to raise awareness to combat this danger.”
Drugged Driving Summit
Recently, AAA Mid-Atlantic, the Delaware Office of Highway Safety, the state Drug Recognition Expert Program Coordinator, and the Attorney General’s office held a Drugged Driving Summit to study the issue and develop an action plan specific to Delaware.
The Summit brought together legislators, law enforcement officials, healthcare experts, members of the treatment community, driving instructors, national experts, and more to discuss this important issue.
The nearly 70 attendees of the Delaware Drugged Driving Summit developed a series of recommendations, addressing such issues as data collection, education, legislative changes, improvements to toxicology labs, funding, and drug treatment.
“We will be working with all three branches of government, safety advocates and the community to implement the recommendations developed at the Summit,” said Jana Simpler, Director of the Delaware Office of highway Safety and Chair of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
As an initial step, the Office of Highway Safety will expand its traditionally alcohol impaired driving-focused outreach efforts to include drugged driving. In addition to outreach efforts to educate the public, OHS will continue to provide training to law enforcement, provide overtime funding to support enforcement of Delaware’s impaired driving laws, and engage partners on the issue of drug-impaired driving.
AAA Research Underscores Danger, Offers Advice
The threat from the legalization of marijuana for recreational use was also discussed at the Drugged Driving Summit. Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found an alarming increase in the proportion of drivers involved in fatal crashes who had recently consumed marijuana following the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Washington State. According to AAA Foundation’s research:
- Fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana more than doubled – from 8 percent to 17 percent.
- One in six drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for active-THC, the ingredient in marijuana that causes impairment.
Because of the increasing concern about the negative traffic safety implications and current challenges in discerning and addressing marijuana-related impaired driving, AAA Club Alliance opposes the legalization of marijuana for recreational use and advises states to:
- Strengthen their state data collection capabilities related to marijuana-involved impaired driving and drug-impaired driving.
- Prepare law enforcement officers to identify marijuana-impaired drivers and increase the number of Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) and Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement Training (ARIDE)-trained officers.
- Use caution in adopting a “Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana” legal standard and if so, adopt a statutory standard of permissible inference that requires both a positive blood test for active-THC and signs of marijuana impairment as determined by a trained law enforcement officer.
“For whatever marijuana might raise in revenue, its legalization comes at a potentially high cost to society and safety, including new threats on our roads,” Rossi concluded.
Image Credits: AAA