Keep the Party Off the Road: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over

NHTSA provided the following facts about holiday driving and the need to be sober and vigilant.

  • Drunk driving is a killer on the roads all year round, but data shows that the tradition of celebrating the holidays with alcohol leads to an increase of traffic crashes and resulting deaths and injuries.
  • happy holidays buzzed drivingFrom Dec. 13, 2013, through Jan. 1, 2014, state and local law enforcement will be out in force cracking down on drunk drivers.
  • Nationwide, the holiday season is a particularly deadly time due to the high number of drunk drivers on the roads. In 2011, 760 people lost their lives as a result of drunk-driving-related crashes during the month of December.
  • During the Decembers from 2007 to 2011 there were 4,169 people killed in crashes that involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentrations of .08 grams per deciliter or higher.
  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 32,367 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2011, and 31 percent (9,878) of those fatalities occurred in drunk-driving-related crashes.
  • Drinking and driving endangers yourself, your passengers, and those on the road around you. Whether you’ve had one or one too many, always hand the keys to a sober driver.

The Consequences of Driving Drunk Are Deadly Serious.

  • Driving while impaired is a crime that seriously risks your safety and the safety of those around you. Whether you have had one too many or are way over the limit, drunk driving is not worth causing a traffic crash, serious injury, or worse—death.
  • Tholiday driving pretty lightshe legal and financial costs of driving while impaired can be significant. Drunk-driving violators often face jail time, the loss of their driver licenses, higher insurance rates, and dozens of other unanticipated expenses ranging from attorney fees, court costs, car towing and repairs, and lost wages due to time off from work.
  • Refusing to take a breath test in many jurisdictions results in immediate arrest, the loss of your driver’s license on the spot and the impoundment of your vehicle. Also, there’s the added embarrassment, humiliation, and consequences of telling family, friends and employers of your arrest.

Plan Ahead and Never Drink and Drive

  • holiday driving drunk elfEven one drink can impair your judgment and increase the risk of getting arrested for driving drunk—or worse, the risk of having a crash while driving.
  • If you will be drinking, do not plan on driving.  Plan ahead; designate a sober driver before the party begins.
  • If you have been drinking, do not drive. Call a taxi, phone a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation.
  • Be responsible. If someone you know is drinking, do not let that person get behind the wheel.
  • If you see an impaired driver on the road, contact law enforcement. Your actions may save someone’s life, and inaction could cost a life.

Remember: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over

More Drivers Testing Positive for Pot…

CDOT Drugged driving 1Several news reports have been published recently citing an apparent increase drivers testing positive for marijuana in Washington State since it was legalized in January.

According to Reuters:

In the first six months with pot legal in the state, 745 drivers stopped by police tested positive for the drug’s psychoactive ingredient, THC, in their blood, the data show.

Over half of those were over the state’s new legal limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

By contrast, in each of the last two full years, about 1,000 drivers who were pulled over tested positive for THC.

The increase comes despite the fact that recreational-use pot stores will not open in Washington state until next year.

Washington State Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said the findings, while preliminary, indicate more people may be driving impaired than was the case before Washington and Colorado in January became the first states to legalize recreational use of the drug.

Whether people are driving under the influence of pot, alcohol or prescription drugs, Calkins said, “It all comes back to a bad decision to drive while impaired.”

Interestingly, the number of people pulled over by the State Patrol (on suspicion of driving under the influence of EITHER drugs or alcohol) during the same time period was roughly the same as each of two prior years (they’re not pulling more people over, but more have been testing positive).

rx-for-dui

A New York Daily News article that covers the situation in Washington State mentioned the following:

Washington State Patrol says it found THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, in the bloodstream of 745 drivers pulled over this year.

That’s a nine percentage point increase from where we were last year at this time, Sgt. Jason Hicks explained.

“It was previously illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana and it remains illegal,” Mason Tvert, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told the Daily News.

drugged driving 2

If you Celebrate, Stay Safe this Cinco de Mayo

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) urges everyone to be extra careful this weekend as some folks like to celebrate “Cinco de Mayo” and that can often lead to “buzzed driving” which is in reality “drunk driving”.

We wanted to join NHTSA in reminding everyone that not only is it illegal to drink and drive, but the consequences can be disastrous, turning a fun celebration into a devastating night.

Sobering Facts from NHTSA:

  • Cinco08_Jail_72dpiFrom 2007 to 2011, 38 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities that occurred each year around May 5th involved alcohol-impaired drivers or motorcycle operators with blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) of .08 and above, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • During the 2011 Cinco de Mayo holiday alone, 35 percent of motor vehicle fatalities involved an alcohol-impaired driver or motorcycle operator with a BAC of .08 and above. And unfortunately, 80 percent of the alcohol impaired fatalities involved a driver or motorcycle operator with nearly twice the legal limit of .15.
  • Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving.  Law enforcement officers will be on high alert for drunk drivers during the Cinco de Mayo time period.
  • In 2011, more than 32,000 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in the United States. Of those fatalities, 31 percent involved a driver or motorcycle operator that was alcohol-impaired.

  • Death and injuries are not the only consequences from impaired driving. Violators often face jail time, loss of their driver’s license and it could cost up to $10,000 in legal fees, fines, and result in higher insurance rates.

Tips from NHTSA — Plan Ahead to See Seis de Mayo:

  • If your Cinco de Mayo celebration includes alcohol, make a plan before the festivities begin to ensure you arrive home safely.
  • Designate your sober driver before the party begins.
  • If you’ve been drinking, never get behind the wheel. Use public transportation, call a cab or someone who can drive you
  • 230x150-mayo5If you know someone who is about to drive or ride with an impaired driver, take their keys and help them make other arrangements to get to where they are going safely.
  • If you see a drunk driver on the road, contact your local law enforcement—you could save a life.
  • By planning ahead, you will make sure you and others live to see, and enjoy, Seis de Mayo.

Pass the chips. Pass the tortillas. Pass your keys to a #DesignatedDriver before you start drinking. #CincodeMayo 

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.

“One for the road” – Alcohol Impairment

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.

Of the most common ways a driver can impair their own ability to drive is to choose to consume alcohol before getting behind the wheel.  In fact, this is a world-wide phenomenon.  According to the Global Road Safety Partnership (Link),

“In high-income countries about 20% of fatally injured drivers have excess alcohol in their blood, while in some low- and middle-income countries these figures may be up to 69%.” (from “Drinking and Driving: an international good practice manual”)

Here in the USA, we have an annual fatality rate of roughly 32% from drinking and driving.  Granted this is much improved since the 1970’s when it was as high as 50% (and even 40% as recently as 2003 per National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – NHTSA) These reductions were due largely to:

  • Changes in laws
  • Aggressive enforcement
  • Community involvement
  • Public awareness
  • Educational programs targeting the youth of our country

Unfortunately, as a nation, we seem to have hit a plateau over the past decade where further declines have been halted.

It’s a sobering reality to contemplate that we continue to record an alcohol fueled traffic fatality every 51 minutes despite our best efforts to curb these behaviors.

Patterns of Deep Seated Behavior?

In reviewing recent research and statistics on alcohol and driving, we find that out of 1.5 million arrests of impaired drivers each year, about a full third are repeat offenders.  Additionally, the Insurance Information Institute issued an update in September showing that first-time offenders are very likely to have driven drunk before their first arrest.  Further, studies suggest that on average, one arrest is made for every 88 instances of driving over the legal limit; therefore we have to wonder if the average first-timer has driven drunk 80+ times before getting caught. (Link to source)

The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) reminds us that while alcohol related crashes happen at all hours, they peak at night and are more common on weekends than on weekdays.  This suggests a link between parties and crashing on the way home, but it’s not the whole picture.  Alcohol still plays a role at all other times on the calendar and clock.

When we combine the fact that most “drunk drivers” have a pattern of drinking and driving, and that while most crash on weekends, the choice to get behind the wheel while buzzed is primarily a judgment call, not one of convenience, conscience or mere location (i.e. the behavior of the weekend partier carries that judgment to the business vehicle during the week even if the alcohol is left behind).

Latest Trending – Binge Drinking

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that most alcohol-impaired drivers binge drink.  Binge drinking is a behavior where large quantities of alcohol are consumed in a short period of time with the purpose of becoming drunk as quickly as possible.

CDC further indicates that most people who binge drink are not alcohol dependent or alcoholics in general.  They may be ordinary people who want to escape their normal routine, “have fun” or simply “get blitzed.”  Consider the following statistics from a January 2012 report:

  • More than half of the alcohol adults drink is consumed while binge drinking.
  • Age group with most binge drinkers: 18-34 years
  • Age group that binge drinks most often: 65+ years
  • Income group with most binge drinkers: more than $75,000
  • Income group that binge drinks the most often and drinks most per binge: less than $25,000

Binge drinking may be a sign that:  the person is unable to cope with other stressors in their life, it could affect more than just driving (i.e. job performance, workers comp injuries, customer complaints, etc.).  All in all, this may also signal a need for the employee to take advantage of an Employee Assistance Program if one is available to them.

Wrong Way Crashes and Links to Alcohol Impairment

On December 11, 2012, an Associated Press article was released which stated:

“Hundreds of people are killed each a year when drivers turn the wrong-way into the face of oncoming traffic on high-speed highways, and a majority of the crashes involves drivers with blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit, a federal accident researcher said Tuesday.

“The board’s study analyzed data from 1,566 crashes from 2004 to 2009, as well as nine wrong way collisions NTSB directly investigated. In 59 percent of the accidents, wrong-way drivers had blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit, researchers said. In another 10 percent of the crashes, drivers had alcohol levels between .08 and .14. The limit in most instances is .08.”

“Often the chain of events begins with drivers entering an exit ramp in the wrong direction, making a U-turn on the mainline of a highway or using an emergency turnaround through a median, investigators said.”

“To address the problem, the board is considering recommending all states require convicted first-time drunken-driving offenders use ignition interlock devices that test their breath for alcohol concentration in order to drive. The devices, mounted on the vehicle’s dashboard, prevent the engine from starting if the driver’s alcohol concentration is too high. Seventeen states already have such a requirement.”

Legal “Profiling”

In California, driver abstracts (aka motor vehicle reports or driver violation histories) that get issued to insurers automatically include any Driving Under the Influence (DUI) violations from the past ten years.  This was done to ensure that a past recipient of a DUI conviction would not qualify for a “good driver discount.”  Even though other types of violations can “fall off” or be “grandfathered”, DUIs are a much more indelible mark on a driver’s record.

From an employer’s perspective, there is a risk in voluntarily handing keys to a driver who has previously been convicted because of “negligent supervision”, “negligent entrustment” and similar legal theories.  Of course, employers might provide keys to company equipment if required by court order, if an “interlock ignition” system is installed or if any license restrictions allow commuting to the worksite (and don’t require the transport of passengers or other riders).

Commercial Drivers and Alcohol

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has published regulations affecting drivers who hold a Commercial Drivers License (CDL).  Initially, a substance abuse testing program was launched in 1989 to cover certain controlled substances, but expanded in 1994 to include alcohol testing requirements.

The testing, along with enforcement initiatives and educational factors have made an impact.  In 1990, 2.8% of all drivers of heavy trucks who died in crashes had a BAC of 0.08 or greater.  By 2010, that percentage had dropped to 1.8%.  This compares favorably to drivers of passenger cars:  1990 = 28.9% and 2010 = 23.2% (these percentages are also similar to drivers of light-duty trucks).  This information is from the “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts 2010” (FMCSA-RRA-12-023, August 2012)

Here are some highlights from the FMCSA’s own website:  http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/topics/drug/engtesting.htm

  1. Who do these rules apply to (besides CDL holders, specifically)?
    1. Examples of drivers and employers that are subject to these rules are (the following does not represent a complete listing):
      1. Anyone who owns or leases commercial motor vehicles
      2. Anyone who assigns drivers to operate commercial motor vehicles
      3. Federal, State, and local governments
      4. For-Hire Motor Carriers
      5. Private Motor Carriers
      6. Civic Organizations (Disabled Veteran Transport, Boy/Girl Scouts, etc.)
      7. Churches
  2. WHAT ALCOHOL USE IS PROHIBITED?
    1. Alcohol is a legal substance; therefore, the rules define specific prohibited alcohol-related conduct. Performance of safety-sensitive functions is prohibited:
      1. While using alcohol.
      2. While having a breath alcohol concentration of 0.04 percent or greater as indicated by an alcohol breath test.
      3. Within four hours after using alcohol.
    2. In addition, refusing to submit to an alcohol test or using alcohol within eight hours after an accident or until tested (for drivers required to be tested) are prohibited.
  3. WHAT ALCOHOL TESTS ARE REQUIRED?
    1. The following alcohol tests are required:
      1. Post-accident – conducted after accidents on drivers whose performance could have contributed to the accident (as determined by a citation for a moving traffic violation) and for all fatal accidents even if the driver is not cited for a moving traffic violation.
      2. Reasonable suspicion – conducted when a trained supervisor or company official observes behavior or appearance that is characteristic of alcohol misuse.
      3. Random – conducted on a random unannounced basis just before, during, or just after performance of safety-sensitive functions.
      4. Return-to-duty and follow-up – conducted when an individual who has violated the prohibited alcohol conduct standards returns to performing safety-sensitive duties. Follow-up tests are unannounced. At least 6 tests must be conducted in the first 12 months after a driver returns to duty. Follow-up testing may be extended for up to 60 months following return to duty.

SUMMARY

The problem of drinking and driving is a significant contributor to road deaths despite improving results over the past four decades.  While we never make light of the emerging threat of electronic distractions, there remains a significant difference between these two conditions:

  • Distracted drivers can drive well, but choose to ignore their duty
  • Alcohol-impaired drivers can’t drive well because they’re physically or “medically” unfit for the duty, but choose to drive anyway

In reality, neither should get behind the wheel if they’re going to impair themselves, and yet both boldly choose to endanger themselves and other drivers despite the warnings and pleadings of safety professionals and the public at large.

As a nation, we’ve called for a complete ban on hand-held cell conversations and texting-while-driving, but it feels like we haven’t (recently or as loudly) called for true zero-tolerance of drinking and driving with the same fervor.  

As an employer, consider a timely review of your policies covering drinking and driving. Perhaps its time to remind your employees of your expectations — after all, you’re also expressing genuine concern for their wellness and safety by curbing the notion that buzzed driving is somehow OK — it isn’t.

Within your own family, talk with teens and seniors, moms and dads — everyone who drives should be reminded that the choices we make have direct and significant consequences.  Calling a cab (or mom and dad) for a ride is a far better choice than hoping for the best, or feeling lucky.

Join the conversation at our Linked In discussion site or our facebook page.

SafetyFirst provides automated MVR checking/ranking services, fleet policy consulting, access to tailored telematics that actually “fit” your company and it’s unique needs.  Validated best in class for reducing collision claims among insurance carriers and world-class safety organizations in every SIC division.
 

Impaired Driving in its many forms…

Until very recently, “Impaired Driving” was often interpreted as “Drunk Driving” or “driving under the influence of alcohol”.  I think it means a lot more than that and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) agrees. According to their website, they state:

“Impaired driving is dangerous and is the cause of more than half of all car crashes. It means operating a motor vehicle while: affected by alcohol; affected by illegal or legal drugs; too sleepy; distracted, such as using a cell phone or texting; having a medical condition which affects your driving.”

Where I disagree is their inclusion of “distracted driving.”  I think they chose to include it since the driver could be suffering from “inattention blindness” where their mind is so hopelessly preoccupied that they don’t recognize traffic signals and conditions properly.

I feel that there is a fundamental difference between distracted driving and impaired driving:

  • Distracted drivers are fully capable of driving well, but choose to ignore their duty to drive properly
  • Truly impaired drivers incapable of driving well because they’re tired, drugged, drunk or ill, but choose to drive anyway

In reality, neither should get behind the wheel, and both choose to endanger themselves and other drivers. 

Driving presents a unique challenge each time we get behind the wheel.  To be ready to handle the dynamic situations we’ll encounter when driving, we ought to be in top condition. 

Our bodies and minds can be affected by a wide range of factors: being tired; being physically ill; suffering from allergies; coping with chronic physical conditions; taking over the counter medications; drinking alcohol; smoking marijuana; taking prescription medications or abusing illicit drugs.

These factors most commonly contribute to collisions by impairing the driver’s judgment and/or reaction times. 

The universal precaution for impaired driving is to avoid becoming impaired in the first place.  This may translate into getting enough sleep and eating a proper diet to avoid fatigue, getting a flu shot annually to lessen the impact of symptoms, avoiding the intake of alcohol or other “recreational” drugs such as marijuana, or asking extra questions of the doctor and pharmacist when dealing with prescribed medications for illnesses or chronic conditions. 

For regulated drivers (i.e. those subject to FMCSRs), physical or medical qualification is an important aspect of becoming and remaining qualified to drive.  For most regulated drivers, this translates to visiting the doctor for a physical once every two years (or more frequently depending on your condition and the doctor’s findings).  In some cases, a failure to meet the minimum requirements (or any discovered fraud surrounding these issues) could lead to disqualification.  On November 30, 2012, the FMCSA issued a press release (Link) stating that it had ordered a driver to cease driving “due to his failure to exercise an appropriate duty of care to the motoring public regarding his medical conditions.”

The FMCSA placed the driver out of service “…after agency investigators found serious safety concerns surrounding his medical condition and qualifications under his commercial driver’s license (CDL) issued by the State of Georgia.” 

Specifically, “…Investigators discovered that Felton failed to disclose to a medical examiner his disqualifying medical conditions, including his medications prescribed in treating those conditions.”

The news release concludes with this message;

“This case sends a clear message that we will use every tool at our disposal to identify and remove from our roads unsafe operators,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “Our agency is committed to raising the bar for commercial vehicle and driver safety.”

This month’s Ten-Minute Training Topic is on Impaired Driving and includes a driver handout, manager’s supplemental report, and a pair of slideshows to facilitate educational opportunities with drivers.  This is distributed to all of the supervisors who receive monthly summary reporting through our Safety Hotline program — in place at more than 3,800 active clients and covering about a quarter million commercial vehicles.

We’ll also be looking at individual forms of impairment more closely through our blog site over the next several weeks.

Thanksgiving & Driving 2012

Thanksgiving is a time here in the USA when families gather to share a meal, watch football and go shopping.  It’s a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, because everyone is traveling to get to their reunion location (or even to go to the mall for supplies, treats or presents) the roads can be a nightmare of congestion and traffic delays due to drivers who may be lost, looking for a turnoff, distracted by traffic apps and navigation systems, or just plain angry that they’re stuck in all this mess.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to remind everyone to buckle up during the holiday period.  While seatbelt use is at all time highs, anyone who fails to wear their restraint is exposed to the same potential outcomes — injuries and even death.  As NHTSA says, “Buckle UP, America!”

Lost?  Stuck in traffic behind a crash? Using apps on smartphones to find alternate routes or directions to grandma’s house may be productive, but only if they’re not being used by the driver while he or she is driving!  Let a co-pilot manage the directions or simply agree to only access apps while safely parked on a side street or mall parking lot, etc.  Distractions also come from passengers who are either excited to be traveling or those who are bored and cranky from being couped up for too long.  Taking breaks on long trips can help the driver in many ways (i.e. fresh air and a little exercise refresh the body and mind — and give the passengers a chance to do the same).

It is important to remind folks that drinking and driving related crashes tend to spike around holidays.  “Buzzed Driving = Drunk Driving” (see the embedded video, below.  It was produced by NHTSA and the AdCouncil about a Thanksgiving holiday crash).  As a responsbile driver, no one should be tempted to use the excuse “but it was only one drink” — one drink too many leads to tragic outcomes.  Drinking and driving is a choice, not a chance — luck should never be a factor someone depends on when avoiding crashes.  Designated drivers save lives.

Eating too much Turkey?  Drivers who drive “drowsy”, especially during late night or early morning hours could easily fall asleep behind the wheel without realizing what’s happening until it’s too late.  Exercise, fresh air and a balanced diet can help with this issue.  Coffee is at best a “band-aid” for drowsiness and not dependable!  Be vigilant so that driving home after a long feast doesn’t become the last trip you ever make.

Now, no one wants to think about morbid issues like traffic fatalities during festive celebrations, but the shocking reality of getting “the phone call” that a loved one is never celebrating another holiday feast with their family, friends and neighbors isn’t on anyone’s wish list either.

Make time to remind your family and friends to be extra vigilant with their driving during the holidays – it’s a good use of your time and it shows that you care about them.  Don’t let a failure to wear seatbelts, a text message, rushing to get there, or “one-drink-too-many” tragically ruin what should be a time of celebration and thanksgiving for all the freedom, privileges and gifts we enjoy as a nation.

Here are a collection of tips and facts provided by NHTSA for you to consider and to share:

  • Wearing your seat belt is the single most effective way to save your life and the lives of your loved ones while on the road this Thanksgiving holiday.
  • One of the best ways to ensure a safe arrival at any destination is to buckle up, every trip, every time.
  • With the help of highway safety advocates and local law enforcement officers across the country, we can increase seat belt use and save lives on our roadways.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2010 alone, seat belts saved more than 12,500 lives nationwide.
  • With proper seat belt use, research shows that the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants is reduced by 45 percent, and the risk of moderate to serious injury is reduced by 50 percent. 
  • Yet, nationally in 2010, 51 percent of the 22,187 passenger vehicle occupants who were killed in motor vehicle crashes were NOT wearing seat belts at the time of their fatal crashes.
  • During the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday (which ran from 6 p.m., Wednesday, November 24, to 5:59 a.m., Monday, November 29) 337 passenger vehicle occupants were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes nationwide, and 55 percent of those killed were unbelted. 
  • Nighttime hours are the most dangerous.  In 2010 nationally, 61 percent of the 10,647 passenger vehicle occupants who were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes overnight (6 p.m. to 5:59 a.m.) were not wearing their seat belts at the time of the fatal crash, compared to 42 percent during the daytime hours.
  • Unfortunately, nighttime fatalities spike over the Thanksgiving holiday. During the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday weekend, 64 percent of the passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes were unbelted, while only 41 percent of daytime fatalities during those same days involved unbelted passenger vehicle occupants.


SafetyFirst Systems provides comprehensive driver safety programs to commercial and sales fleets throughout North America.  We help more than 3800 active fleet clients to mitigate collisions in such diverse businesses as telecomunications, food & beverage, local delivery, construction, HVAC, human services, arborists and municipalities.

Greased Lightning vs. Driving Miss Daisy

The Great Safe Driver Debate
Browse more data visualization.
 

I enjoy interesting infographic displays — they tell a lot of data in a small space, but they don’t always tell the whole story (they’re not designed to!)

There are many layers of issues driving these statistics for each age band:

  • teens have less experience, take risks to impress friends and may not comprehend the power they wield in the car they drive
  • Seniors tend to be cautious drivers, chronological age is not a good predictor of ability (everyone’s body and mind age at different rates) and they often depend on their car to be able to look after themselves (car = lifeline to supplies, doctor, friends)

Traffic safety professionals continue to work on ways to educate, devise reasonable tests and lobby for enhanced legislation that provides results without unfair restriction on individual liberty.  The good news is that things are getting better, but we still read headlines about crashes every day.

Driver Safety is every person’s responsibility — whether buckling up, avoiding distraction, encouraging others to give up their keys, teaching teens to slow down, providing detailed reports on dangerous behavior to the appropriate authorities, restricting how many teen friends may ride along, or simply obeying the rules of the road consistently — when we each do our part, lives are saved.

Be safe this Labor Day weekend — don’t drink and drive, get plenty of rest (don’t drive drowsy) and try to stay calm as you idle in traffic and congestion on the way to the shore or mountains, etc.

Drugged Driving Update — Recent News Stories

Since posting our article on medical marijuana, there have been several news reports about drugged driving and tragic crashes or court cases.  Here’s a quick overview:

  • June 6, 2012: http://www.khozradio.com/13817/white_county_man_sentenced_to_6_years_for_fatal_accident.html  “A White County Circuit Court judge has sentenced a man to six years in prison on a manslaughter count in connection with an accident that killed a Heber Springs woman.  Authorities say [the man’s] vehicle crossed the center line on Arkansas Highway 16 near Searcy in December 2009. Prosecutors say lab tests showed [the driver] had methamphetamine and marijuana in his system at the time of the crash.”

Taking risks with your own body isn’t the issue, it’s also taking risks with a stranger you might meet while driving.

  • http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_20418590/light-three-recent-fatal-accidents-chp-warns-drivers“Three recent fatal accidents in the county were caused by drivers under the influence of marijuana and the California Highway Patrol is urging residents to be aware of the impairing effects of the drug on driving.

    According to Santa Cruz CHP Cmdr. Matt Olson, 30 percent of all fatal collisions statewide are caused by a driver under the influence of drugs. Santa Cruz County is unfortunately ahead of that statistic, Olson said.

    A three-car crash on Highway 129 on Feb. 10 was caused by a young woman under the influence of marijuana. The accident killed the driver and seriously injured another person, Olson said.

    Last month, two men were killed in single-car accidents. Both were later determined to be under the influence of alcohol and marijuana, according to CHP. In one incident, a 35-year-old Aptos man lost control of his car and collided with a tree on Highway 1 at State Park Drive on March 18. In the other, a 21-year-old Felton man died on March 14 after his truck ran off the edge of Graham Hill Road and struck a tree.

    “These collisions are particularly tragic,” Olson said. “They each cut short the lives of young people with so much ahead of them and left behind devastated families.”  Sadly, these collisions were avoidable, he said, and CHP wants to prevent this from happening to others.

    In 2010, four of seven fatal accidents investigated in Santa Cruz County were caused by marijuana DUI, though in 2011, not one life was lost to a drug or alcohol-impaired driver. In response to the drug-impaired driving deaths in 2010, more CHP officers received Drug Recognition Expert Training. This year, every CHP officer in the county will receive Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement training to address the problem of impaired driving in the county.

    Whether illicitly or legally obtained, marijuana has a profoundly negative effect on the ability to safely drive a car, said Olson. Prescription and other illegal drugs also impair drivers.”

  • http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-04/D9U82C0O0.htm“Medical marijuana law no defense for Mich. drivers” – By ED WHITE

    “Michigan’s medical marijuana law doesn’t shield people from charges if they are caught driving after using the drug, the state appeals court ruled Wednesday in another significant decision involving the 2008 voter-approved law.

    A three-judge panel sided with the Grand Traverse County prosecutor in northern Michigan by restoring a criminal case against Rodney Koon, 50, a medical marijuana user who was stopped in 2010 for exceeding the speed limit by nearly 30 mph. He admitted smoking marijuana six hours earlier, and a blood test revealed the drug in his body.

    Michigan law has zero tolerance for drivers who show evidence of certain drugs, but more than 130,000 people have state-issued cards allowing them to use marijuana to alleviate pain and other symptoms of chronic illness.

    Two courts dismissed the charge against Koon, saying prosecutors had to show he was impaired. The appeals court, however, said the medical marijuana law “does not permit all types of medical use of marijuana under all circumstances.”

    “Driving is a particularly dangerous activity,” judges David Sawyer, Peter O’Connell and Amy Ronayne Krause wrote in the ruling. “Schedule 1 substances are considered particularly inimical to a drivers’ ability to remain in maximally safe control of their vehicles. The danger of failing to do so affects not only the driver, but anyone else in the vicinity.”

    A message seeking comment from Koon’s attorney, James Hunt, was not immediately returned. In a court filing, Hunt argued that drivers who use medical marijuana should be treated like other people who legally consume prescription drugs.

    A statewide association of Michigan prosecutors had called for the result delivered by the appeals court. There always will be some conduct that is considered legal, the group said, but only before someone gets behind the wheel of a car.

“Even texting, conduct that is otherwise legal and might even, at times, involve the communication of protected content under the First Amendment, is prohibited while operating a motor vehicle” in Michigan, prosecutors said in a court filing.

Many disputes over medical marijuana have hit the appeals court. In a major decision last year, the court said the new law doesn’t allow the sale of medical marijuana through pot shops. The case has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.”

Unlike the legal alcohol limit, there are currently no toxicity standards for narcotics. That can make it tough for prosecutors handling drug-related cases.
Even if someone is arrested for being impaired, prosecutors say cases involving drugs can be difficult to try.

“Often times jurors assume, incorrectly, that prescription drugs should be treated differently. But the reality is, if they impair your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, they qualify for in the vehicle code section as a drug,” explains Wagner.

District Attorney Ricky Babin said Thursday there is evidence of illegal drug use by a mother driving the car in a February fatal crash on Stringer Bridge Road that led to the deaths of her two young daughters. The car…sank into Black Bayou after it left the roadway at 9:41 p.m. Feb. 21, according to a Louisiana State Police state report.  The crash report says laboratory tests of [the driver’s] blood sample turned up evidence of prescription drugs: hydrocodone, diazepam, venlafaxine and norvenlafaxine. A blood-alcohol analysis found no alcohol in her system.

Medical Marijuana & Driving Safely: Compatible or Paradox?

A recent news article titled; “In the medical marijuana age, how high is too high to drive?” introduced the idea of writing new traffic law to define legal limits for drugged driving. 

This concept was brought to light in Colorado by state Senator Steve King.  Twelve years ago Colorado legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes and reportedly more than 85,000 people have been certified by the state health department to use it.  Looking at the time period from 2006 to 2010, there were more than 300 fatal accidents involving drivers who tested positive for cannabis.  These sobering facts are the main reason for introducing the concept of a legal limit for marijuana intoxication.

Other state legislators are making the connection between drugged driving and traffic fatalities.  In California, Assemblywoman Norma Torres reportedly wants to set a zero-tolerance ban on driving under the influence of any drug, including marijuana.

Critics of these proposals argue that the ways that cannibis affects the human body are different than alcohol, the practical testing hasn’t been developed, and medical science hasn’t concluded what limit should be set as acceptable versus unacceptable for driving while having previously used medical marijuana (or other drugs for that matter).

How are states handling this now and what do they propose?

“According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 states have what are known as “per se” laws regarding drugs and driving. That means anyone driving with traces of an illegal or impairing drug in his or her system is breaking the law. This is closer to a “zero tolerance” policy than the 0.08 percent blood alcohol content states have for drunk driving.

However, of those states that have per se laws, Arizona, Delaware, Michigan, Nevada and Rhode Island also allow medicinal marijuana, setting up an inherent conflict in their laws.

Marijuana is currently on unsure legal footing: Even as states are beginning to create a legal framework for allowing use of the drug, the federal government still classifies marijuana as a schedule I drug alongside LSD and heroin and has recently begun raiding dispensaries and arresting cultivators. The drug’s tenuous legal hold has created “a mess for enforcement for impaired driving,” says Chris Cochran, deputy director of public information for the California Office of Transportation Safety.

…In an attempt to create something like the clear standard that exists for alcohol intoxication, Nevada set a limit for THC in the blood at 2 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. That’s about 2 billionths of a gram of THC – one gram is about the weight of a paperclip – in one drop of blood.

In Colorado, state King’s bill would set a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. And in Washington state, the ballot initiative that would legalize recreational use of marijuana would also set a limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

Advocates of medical marijuana say the science isn’t supportive of adopting such specific limits. They worry that this approach will cause drivers who aren’t impaired but have lingering traces of THC in their blood to lose their drivers’ licenses. [emphasis added]

Research has not found a consistent intoxication standard similar to a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content.

While most “over the road” truckers have substance abuse screening programs in place (FMCSR Part 382, et.al.), many commercial fleet operators are not regulated in this area.  The question remains, will drivers who get approved for medical use of marijuana and report for duty on Monday morning drive safely?  What happens if they are involved in a tragic collision with fatalities and the circumstances lead to extended litigation with discovery of the alleged “impairment” of the driver?

Would these laws (as proposed in Colorado and California) be enforceable and/or helpful in curbing driving “under the influence” of medical marijuana?

Do these proposals go far enough?  Is it equally important to document what concentration of antihistamines, Valium, antipsychotics, barbiturates, and codeine (et.al.) is “too much” in a person’s system to drive safely?

Come join our discussion on this and other topics at our networking group on Linked In! (search groups for “SafetyFirst Client Networking”)