While alcohol remains the prime culprit in vehicle injuries and deaths, recent statistics indicate that drugs are catching up. In one study of over 20,000 drivers who died shortly after a crash, almost 40% tested positive for alcohol, while nearly 25% tested positive for other drugs. After alcohol, cannabis is the main cause of impaired driving leading to accidents.

Because of the liberalizing of drug laws regarding cannabis, and the relatively new paradigm of medical marijuana, more people are openly using cannabis. Among users, there is a clear belief that driving skills are not affected. The statistics contradict this belief: studies indicate a large increase in the likelihood of injury among drivers who are under the influence of cannabis as compared to nonusers.

Similarly, the prevalence of pain medication—a nationwide epidemic—has had consequences on the road. Medicinal and “recreational” use of opioids are hugely problematic when it comes to operating a motor vehicle: attention, judgment, and reaction time are impaired, and self-assessment of impairment is poor.

The increase in drugged driving accidents is a matter of concern for public-policy makers and law enforcement officials.

Standards have been set for blood-alcohol levels in field tests; these levels have a reliable correspondence to levels of impairment and consequently can be used for arrests and ascertaining liability. With drugs, however, these levels have not been determined.

Users have different levels of tolerance, presence of drugs does not necessarily equate to impairment, and impairment standards have not been set for various substances. This is complicated by the fact that different categories of substances create different effects, and driving competency is affected in various ways: cannabis, tranquilizers, and opiates affect judgment and slow down reaction time; stimulants (especially amphetamines) tend to generate recklessness and erratic behavior. Drug and alcohol detox in Reno, NV.

Generally, as with alcohol, the more affected by a substance, the less a person will acknowledge the possibility of impairment. Drugged driving accidents are trending upward and public awareness is a necessary first step toward making rational policy decisions.

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