The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) issued a press release noting that 14 percent of California drivers who submitted to toxicology screens actually tested positive for drugs.
Who was tested?
The survey targeted "weekend nighttime drivers" on California's roads.
How did the results compare to alcohol impairment?
While the tests showed that approximately 7.3 percent of drivers tested positive for alcohol, 14 percent tested positive for "drugs that may impair driving." Included in this demarcation is marijuana, which accounted for 7.4 percent of the positive drug screens. It is noteworthy that of the drivers who tested positive for alcohol, 23 percent also tested positive for another drug. Of the drivers who tested positive for marijuana, 26.5 percent also tested positive for at least one other drug.
Did drivers only test positive for legal drugs?
Although medical marijuana is legal in California, 4.6 percent of drug screens pointed to illegal drugs. An equal amount accounted for prescription drugs or "over-the-counter medications that may impair driving."
How are impaired driving statistics changing?
When investigating fatal car crashes in 2010, OTS officials found that 30 percent of drivers had a legal or illegal drug in their systems at the time of the accidents. A 2011 report issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) highlights that drugged driving is indeed a growing trend.
In 1999, only 8.2 percent of total automobile fatalities involved drugs. By the year 2000, the number had increased to 11.5 percent. With the exception of 2007, when the rate slightly declined, it has been experiencing a steady upward trend. Alcohol-involved fatalities were at 32.8 percent in 1999. With the exception of 2007, this number, too, has been steadily on the rise. By 2009, it had risen to 41.1 percent of cases.
How are state officials reacting to the change in impaired driving trends?
"You can be as deadly behind the wheel with marijuana or prescription drugs as you can with over-the-limit alcohol," an OTS official told the Los Angeles Times in February. Officials have begun a training program for law enforcement that is designed to help spot drug-impaired drivers. Even so, officials note that there are few processes in place at this time to deal with this growing problem. "We're sort of where we were with drunk driving in 1950, we're just getting a handle on it," the OTS official admitted.
A February OTS report underscores the state's inability to deal with the growing drug problem. Noting, "Drugs and driving do not mix," the agency nevertheless reveals that due to the expense of toxicology testing and the failure to actually have an established impairment limit for legal and illegal drugs, legal action involving these offenses is complicated.
Sylvia Cochran is a Los Angeles area resident with a firm finger on the pulse of California politics. Talk radio junkie, community volunteer and politically independent, she scrutinizes the good and the bad from both sides of the political aisle.
- Addiction & Substance Abuse
- prescription drugs