Addiction And Automobiles: A Risky Combination
When it comes to motor vehicle safety, there are a few common mantras. Don’t drink and drive. Wear your seatbelt. No texting. But considering increasing rates of opioid abuse, as well as marijuana legalization efforts, it may be time that we focus our attention on drugged driving instead.
A Growing Problem
Opioid addiction deaths are on the rise across the country, but they’re also contributing to deaths on the road. In 2015, the last year for which data is available, 43% of motorist fatalities involved drugs, compared to only 37% for alcohol.
There are several reasons drugs are so often implicated in accidents. First, drug use can increase aggressiveness, causing road rage or impulsiveness. These drivers may speed or chase down other drivers, or even try to provoke a road race. On the other hand, depressant drugs can make drivers drowsy and increase the likelihood of falling asleep behind the wheel.
Marijuana use, for example, results in a measurable increase in car accidents. One study, which looked at car accident rates on April 20th, a day associated specifically with marijuana use, saw a 12% increase in crashes, which is equal to the typical increase on Super Bowl Sunday when drunk driving rates increase. Marijuana, much like alcohol, reduces driver response time and causes drowsiness. Despite its reputation among many users as harmless, marijuana is a real safety risk when it meets the road.
How do we keep drivers from using drugs and then driving when, like drinking alcohol, drugs impede judgment and increase the likelihood of acting against our better judgment? One simple solution may be to address the financial consequences of causing a car accident.
When someone is badly injured in an accident, they can win personal injury payouts in the millions, which even if you’re well insured, will dramatically raise your insurance rates and you may serve significant prison time. One woman, who caused a fatal crash after taking heroin, was sentenced to 16 years in jail – a relatively light sentence due to mitigating factors. Using drugs and driving is the kind of reckless behavior that ends lives.
A Community Effort
It takes a village to solve any problem, which is why individuals and lawmakers need to reduce the number of drugged drivers on the road. Families and friends of those with known addiction problems should offer support, including acting as a designated driver, if possible, while also setting clear boundaries, such as refusing to be a passenger of anyone using drugs.
Additionally, parents should stress the dangers of driving under the influence. One study suggested 12% of high school seniors had recently driven after using marijuana, while only 9% had done so after using alcohol. In their minds – or in the messaging they’re receiving – they are evidently not seen as equally dangerous.
Finally, legal doctors prescribing medical marijuana should be clear with patients about the necessary limitations on its use. In most cases, prescription drug use and driving are not contraindicated – in fact, besides sleeping pills, most people should take their medications before driving. With medical marijuana, however, patients should be advised not to use the drug before driving. Doing so presents legal risks, even among medical users, and increases the likelihood of being involved in an accident.
Driving under the influence is dangerous, no matter what the substance, but at a time when opioid addiction is ravaging our country, and marijuana use are facing decreased stigma, more people are getting behind the wheel with drugs in their system. It’s bad news, and it can be prevented. We need new awareness campaigns and messaging that says drugs are a risk to road safety.
Call an Uber or call a friend – but don’t get behind the wheel.