Drugged Driving: What is it?

NOTE: This article is part of a series investigating the definition of “impaired driving” as it occurs in society, traffic safety and driver safety professional networks.

Drugged driving, which can include a range of situations, seems to be on the increase.  I have to say “seems to be” since data collection and roadside testing are not as consistent for this issue as for other impairment issues such as drunk driving.

Drugged driving can occur from a number of situations:

  • use of OTC medicines,
  • use of prescription medications,
  • recreational use of illicit drugs,
  • chronic (repeat) use of illicit drugs,

Technically speaking any driver can use cold and flu remedies and drive, but if they’re involved in a crash, it may come back to haunt them in hindsight.  Many of these remedies plainly state that users should not drive withing a specified amount of time of using the medicine.

Prescribed medications can affect driving ability and it’s the duty of the doctor to make drivers aware of the possible side effects.  Per Federal regulations:

Title 49 CFR 382.213 states:

No driver shall report for duty or remain on duty requiring the performance of safety sensitive functions when the driver uses any controlled substance, except when the use is pursuant to the instructions of a licensed medical practitioner, as defined in Sec. 382.107 of this part, who has advised the driver that the substance will not adversely affect the driver’s ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle.

For regulated drivers (Commercial Motor Vehicle operators), there is effectively zero tolerance for illicit drug use.  So even though medical use of marijuana is legal in 18 U.S. states, regulated drivers are expressly prohibited from driving while under the influence of controlled substances; however  it’s possible that a non-regulated driver may drive while under the influence of marijuana depending on their state and local laws (most treat drugged driving as a zero tolerance policy, but not all).

For non-regulated drivers, most state laws include drugged driving with their drunk driving statutes, but some are beginning to separate the legislation to improve recordkeeping and statistics.  California is one of these states.  Specifically, AB 2552 moves each of the DUI categories – alcohol, drugs, and alcohol plus drugs – into separate sections of the vehicle code.  In other states, such as Washington and Colorado which recently approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational use will have to decide how to handle drugged driving.  Early discussions have focused on determining milligrams of THC in the blood which is a parallel approach to measuring Blood Alcohol Content (although detractors claim that THC and alcohol impair people in different ways, etc.)

The impact of these initial steps to legalize recreational marijuana use on driving and crashes is hard to predict, but the increased availability may be an indicator that crashes from this form of drugged driving may rise.

A recent news report (click here) stated that;

“If a California company has its way, recreational marijuana users in Colorado and Washington state will one day be able to get their pot out of vending machines. “One day we envision these machines to be accessed, when it’s allowed, 24 hours a day,” Vincent Mehdizadeh, the founder and chief consultant of a subsidiary of Medbox that produces, installs and consults on the vending business, told NBC News. “

While firms look for additional ways to market marijuana to consumers, California is work to better understand the current scope of drugged driving.  The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) recently conducted a survey of drivers and found that:

  • more drivers tested positive for drugs that may impair driving (14 percent) than did for alcohol (7.3 percent). 
  • Of the drugs, marijuana was most prevalent, at 7.4 percent, slightly more than alcohol.

  • Of those testing positive for alcohol, 23 percent also tested positive for at least one other drug. This combination can increase the effect of both substances. 
  • Illegal drugs were found in the systems of 4.6 percent of drivers
  • 4.6 percent also tested positive for prescription or over-the-counter medications that may impair driving.

  • More than one quarter (26.5 percent) of drivers testing positive for marijuana also tested positive for at least one other drug. 

According to the press release (click here) from OTS, the survey was conducted in the following manner:

“Over 1,300 drivers voluntarily agreed to provide breath and/or saliva samples at roadside locations set up in nine California cities.  The samples were collected between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, the peak times of impaired driving.  Breath samples were examined for alcohol, while saliva samples were tested for THC (the active ingredient in marijuana), major illegal drugs, plus prescription and over-the-counter medications that may adversely affect driving.”

Summary

Drugged driving is a serious issue.  Crash reductions and traffic safety are every driver’s responsibility.  Being qualified medically, and being fit from a wellness standpoint, are critical to operating in a “safe manner”.  Employers may be uncomfortable with delving into the wellness of their employees, but ignoring it doesn’t work to prevent crashes either.  Education about the issue is a good place to start so that employees will be enabled to make better choices on their own about staying healthy behind the wheel.

Ultimately, employers who are already moving towards “zero tolerance” of the use of hand held cell phones and texting should be ready to institute similar policies against driving while buzzed on medications, OTC caplets or recreational drugs.

What do you think?  Join the discussion at our Facebook page, or our Linked In networking group.

About SafetyFirst — we are a driver safety firm offering best-in-class services to fleets throughout North America.  We have many imitators, but our programs have been repeatedly validated in head-to-head comparison to our competition.  Whether you are looking for a better coaching program, a way to translate greater savings from your existing telematics program, or to streamline your record-keeping processes for better management reporting (and less work), talk to us — we can help.

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