Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Drugged Driving on the Rise, Report Says Marijuana, Opioids Cited Most Often in Fatalities

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Drugged Driving on the Rise, Report Says Marijuana, Opioids Cited Most Often in Fatalities

Article excerpt

While efforts to reduce drunken driving have been successful in recent decades, drugged driving is on the rise.

According to a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, 44 percent of the drivers killed nationwide in 2016 tested positive for drugs, up from 28 percent 10 years earlier.

"When we're talking about drunk driving in the last 30 years, we've really had a comprehensive approach to that problem," said Erin Holmes, director of traffic safety at the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. "Drug-impaired driving hasn't been the central focus, but it has always been a problem."

Marijuana and opioids were the two most common drugs for which fatally injured drivers tested positive, according to the report. Among those drivers in 2016, 38 percent tested positive for some form of marijuana, 16 percent for opioids and 4 percent for both.

That data, some officials said, lead them to believe that the legalization of marijuana in some states and the growing opioid crisis nationwide have contributed to the increase in drug-related crashes and fatalities.

Kara Macek, a spokeswoman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, called those factors "catalysts of drug-impaired driving." And Ms. Holmes said, "The more access people have, the more likely they are to use."

Still, with the legalization of marijuana occurring only within the past few years, it may be too early to say definitively whether it has directly caused a rise in the number of driver fatalities.

Ms. Holmes said she is still "a couple years out" from feeling fully confident in the data."Testing is really inconsistent," she said. "The data is not where we want it to be."

There is no question, however, that drug-related driving incidents are a growing issue nationally -and Pennsylvania is no exception.

In Pennsylvania in 2012, there were 3,306 crashes -106 of which were fatal -involving a driver, bicyclist or pedestrian suspected of drug use, compared with 4,301 - and 139 fatalities - in 2017, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

The number of alcohol-related collisions, however decreased from 11,729 in 2012 to 10,091 in 2017. …

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