Breath and blood sobriety tests, thousands of which were conducted in Virginia Beach, VA, indicate that drunk drivers have become less of a threat on American streets and highways. The same studies conducted for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration also revealed the potentially bad news that even as fewer people get behind the wheel after consuming alcohol, growing numbers of individuals drive after using marijuana or abusing prescription drugs.
According to a February 6, 2014, NHTSA press release announcing the results from its most-recent Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers states: “About 8 percent of drivers during weekend nighttime hours were found to have alcohol in their system, and just over 1 percent were found with 0.08 percent or higher breath alcohol content–the legal limit in every state. This is down by about 30 percent from the previous survey in 2007 and down 80 percent from the first survey in 1973.”
Countering that welcome and precipitous downward trend in drunk driving, researchers also found that “The number of weekend nighttime drivers with evidence of drugs in their system climbed from 16.3 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2014. The number of drivers with marijuana in their system grew by nearly 50 percent.”
In Virginia Beach, NHTSA analyzed how many drivers who had accidents were impaired by alcohol and drugs, with the latter category including marijuana, opioid painkillers like OxyContin (oxycodone) and cocaine. Drunk drivers had the greatest risks for crashing and causing injuries and deaths. The effects of drug and medication impairment, however, could not be precisely separated from other factors that influence the likelihood of a person having a car accident, such as age and gender. For instance, men under the age of 25 are most likely to both crash and use marijuana.
Further studies are planned to more clearly delineate how risky drug use is for drivers and others on the road, particularly in Washington state where recreational use of marijuana became legal in 2014. For now, the best advice is to refrain from using all intoxicants before picking up the keys. What federal statistics make clear is that 31 percent of fatal motor vehicle accident involve alcohol and 18 percent of deadly crashes involve at least one driver who used drugs.
As a Virginia Beach-based personal injury and wrongful death attorney who has had to help too many victims of DUI/DWI accidents pick up the pieces, I applaud Americans’ collective decision to drink and drive less often. I would also like to see more people recognize the risks of impaired driving in all forms. Sober driving is the safest driving.