The Good News
There is convincing evidence that the number of people driving in the United States while impaired by alcohol is on the decline.
A combination of tough new laws to combat drunk driving, vigorous enforcement of those laws, and a change in what society considers acceptable behavior has led to a shift in driver behavior over the past 30 years. When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted its latest roadside survey, researchers found that only 2.2 percent of drivers had blood-alcohol levels of 0.08 or higher—the legal threshold for intoxication in all states. That’s the endpoint of a steady decline since the 1973 survey, when 7.5 percent of drivers tested as drunk.
Alcohol intoxication remains the most important cause for serious and fatal traffic accidents, so anything that disrupts typical drunk-driving behavior patterns should be celebrated. The scope of the problem is illustrated by facts from 2012, when 10,322 people died in traffic crashes where alcohol was a factor. Nearly two-thirds of those fatalities were drivers whose blood-alcohol levels were greater than 0.08—and the remainder were passengers or innocent bystanders.
The Bad News
Even as the incidence of routine drunk driving is declining, we have begun to see an increase in another form of driving intoxication: drugs.
In one federal government study, almost one in every six (16.3 percent) nighttime weekend drivers was found to have been using drugs, with marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine topping the list. Of course, one cannot conclude that all these drivers were intoxicated, because drugs remain detectable in the body for weeks after they are consumed. This evidence does suggest that the greater public acceptance of marijuana, at least, has also made some drivers willing to risk driving while stoned.
Those risks are immense. Marijuana and other drugs affect a driver’s judgment, reaction time, memory, and coordination. Many driving simulator tests have demonstrated that drivers are just as hazardous on the road after smoking pot as they are after drinking heavily. However, drugs interfere with the individual’s ability to assess his own behavior, so a stoned driver may not recognize how severely his ability to drive safely has been compromised.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has taken a leadership position on this issue, pointing out that a key study of traffic accidents with known drug test results found that one-third of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs other than alcohol. With the assistance of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and other federal agencies, the ONDCP has begun outreach to state governments to strengthen drugged driving control measures.
In Pennsylvania, alcohol and illegal drugs are both covered under the Driving Under the Influence law, adopted in 2003. Commonwealth law says that impairment by controlled substances—even legally prescribed drugs—can be punished just as sternly as drunk-driving offenses.
Call Schmidt Kramer If You Were Hurt by a Drugged Driver in Central Pennsylvania
When a driver is too stoned to travel safely along I-81 or the Pennsylvania Turnpike, horrific accidents can follow from his misjudgments. Our car accident attorneys in Harrisburg are standing ready to respond to your call when you need advice or legal representation. Call us today at 717-888-8888 or (888) 476-0807 toll-free to schedule a free, confidential case review or to request a FREE copy of our essential report, Who Pays the Bills When You Are Injured in an Automobile Accident?