Drive Safer: Don’t Drive On Drugs

Drugged driving deaths have surpassed drunken driving deaths in the past two years for the first time in history.

Driving under the influence of drugs can be just as dangerous as driving home from a bar after an evening of drinking. The latest data show that 43 percent of drivers who died in car crashes and were tested in autopsy had drugs in their bodies, according to “Drug Impaired Driving: A Guide for States,” published by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility.

This paints a bleak picture of our country’s highway safety. While we’ve improved on drunken driving, now we’re faced with a new problem.

Marijuana was the most commonly found drug in the study. While smoking marijuana is now legal in several states, driving while under the influence of it is still very dangerous. Studies have shown that marijuana impairs psychomotor skills and cognitive functions associated with driving, including vigilance, time and distance perception, lane tracking, coordination, divided attention tasks, and reaction time. However, in surveys with regular marijuana users in Colorado and Washington, almost all believed that marijuana poses no danger to their driving, and some believed that marijuana improves their driving. When you combine marijuana with sedatives and opiates, it can increase anxiety and cause hallucinations. It can increase heart rate and blood pressure when combined with amphetamines.

Cocaine is a narcotic that can cause serious impairment to drivers. Often seen in cocaine-impaired drivers are speeding, losing control of the vehicle, turning in front of other vehicles, inattentiveness and poor impulse control. As the effects wear off, cocaine users can suffer from fatigue, depression, sleepiness and inattention, all dangerous if the user is driving.

What can you do?

If you’re using illicit drugs, get help. Until you get help, please don’t drive while using these drugs.

Even if you don’t use illegal drugs, be careful of the prescription drugs you take. Read the warning labels or ask your pharmacist if it’s OK to drive on your medication. Sedatives can cause drowsiness, and opioid pain relievers can cause similar effects to driving on cocaine or sedatives. Even some prescription drugs you might not expect can cause driving issues.

Who is driving impaired?

Teens and college-age students are most at risk. A 2011 survey of middle and high school students showed that, in the 2 weeks before the survey, 12 percent of high school seniors had driven after using marijuana, compared with around 9 percent who had driven after drinking alcohol. They are less experienced on the road and may not understand the effects the drugs can have on their bodies and their ability to drive. Car crashes are the leading cause of death between 16- and 19-year-olds.

A study of college students with access to a car found that one in six had driven under the influence of a drug at least once in the past year. The most common drug used was Marijuana, then cocaine and prescription pain relievers.

Some strategies you can take to prevent drugged and drunken driving:

  • Offer to be a designated driver. Keeping yourself sober could save your and your friends’ lives.
  • Appoint a designated driver in advance to take all car keys. Make sure this person is reliable and isn’t the type to give in to temptation.
  • Get a ride to and from parties where there are drugs and alcohol.
  • Discuss the risks of drugged driving with friends in advance.
  • Take a taxi or use a ride-share app. Ride shares are in most places these days and are an inexpensive way to prevent dangerous driving.
  • Plan to stay the night or walk home. If you’re at a friend’s house, he or she should be glad to allow you to sleep on the couch.

The best way to prevent drugged and drunken driving is to not partake. But if you do, please plan ahead — for your safety and for others on the road.

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