The Drugged Driving Epidemic Is Hitting Long Island

A new report from AAA found that drugged driving is posing a larger threat than drunk driving.  Prominently mentioned in the report was this growing problem on Long Island. AAA also discloses that fatal crashes involving New York drivers who test positive for drugs are most prevalent during the summer – with August being the peak month. And though it’s difficult to pin-down when drugged driving is a cause of accidents, AAA (and other research) findings renew concern that marijuana and opioids are contributing to a full-blown safety crisis on our roadways.

The study looked at 2016 by-county crash fatality data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The data reveals that Suffolk County had the most drugged-driver deaths in the Empire State – 24. Nassau County finished second, with 11. One in four tested positive for marijuana post-mortem, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the drivers were legally “high” at the time of their deaths. In addition, young people between age 19 and 21 years received the most tickets for drugged driving, according to this AAA study.

“Those using drugs and being killed on our roadways actually outnumber those who were drunk and on the roads,” says AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair.

AAA and law enforcement note that regardless of whether marijuana is legal, drivers shouldn’t get behind the wheel while impaired. “Certainly, you can have marijuana in your system and not be suffering [from its effects]” Sinclair said, noting that THC – the active ingredient in marijuana – can remain in one’s system for up to a month.

Medication and Driving

Prescription drugs have been the focus of several drugged-driving surveys, most of which led to many parallel conclusions, such as:

  • Only 28 percent of drivers consider driving under the influence of prescription drugs to be a “very serious threat,” according to the AAA report. To compare, two-thirds of those surveyed consider driving under the influence of alcohol to be a very serious threat. And 56 percent of people consider driving under the influence of illegal drugs to be a very serious threat.
  • 35 percent of drivers reported self-regulating their driving in the past when they believed their medication could affect their ability to drive safely, according to another survey by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA) of nighttime weekend drivers.
  • Several other studies have revealed that certain medications increase a driver’s risk of being in a traffic crash. Certain antidepressants have been shown to increase crash risk by up to 41 percent.
  • Diphenhydramine is an ingredient commonly found in over-the-counter cold and allergy medications.
  • This drug has been shown to severely impair the ability to follow at a safe and constant distance, maintain speed, and maintain lane position.
  • One single dose of this medication can have the same effect on driving as being above the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

Drug-Impaired Driving Statistics

  • Prescription drugs are the most prevalent found in drugged drivers involved in fatal crashes (46.5 percent according to the GHSA), and the percentage has increased in each of their annual surveys since 2005.
  • Benzodiazepines (prescribed for anxiety or sleep disorders) and opiates (for pain relief) are the two prescription drugs most commonly found in fatal and seriously injured drivers.

And as an aside: because prescription opioids and heroin have similar chemical properties and physiological impacts, several studies – including one by the National Institute on Drug Abuse – conclude that people who are unable to renew their very expensive opioid prescriptions are turning to heroin because it’s cheaper, easier to get on the street, and the price is much lower.

If you or a loved one has been injured by an impaired driver, we encourage you to contact Kaplan Lawyers PC today to schedule a free consultation.