Last week, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released its latest research study on traffic accident risk factors, and one statistic was particularly shocking: according to their 2015 data, an overwhelming majority of drivers in the United States today are driving while involved in some kind of risky behavior.
What’s this shockingly high number? Eighty-seven percent (87%).
According to the AAA Foundation study, 87% of the drivers on American roads today are driving at less than optimal functioning. Some are driving while distracted by things like phones and texting. Some are drunk. Some are driving while under the influence of prescription drugs, or illegal drugs, or even over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Others are driving when they are emotionally upset and distracted by their thoughts and feelings; some are driving cavalierly without seat belts; some are driving when they are exhausted and fatigued.
Whatever the reason, the research has shown that only 13% of those people driving their vehicles on roads with you, your loved ones, your friends, and your co-workers, are driving alert and aware.
(You can read the complete report online for all the details here, published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in February 2016 and entitled “2015 Traffic Safety Culture Index.”)
Impaired Driving is a Serious Concern for Indiana, the “Crossroads of America”
Understanding the dangers of impaired driving and finding ways to decrease the risk of a serious accident caused by a driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or driving while distracted, is especially important for our part of the country.
After all, Indiana is known as “The Crossroads of America” because of the high number of interstates and highways that route through our state. We’ve got over 12,000 miles of high-speed interstate traffic in Indiana on the federal interstate system, and that’s not including other major transportation routes here (like state-owned roadways).
The Indiana Department of Transportation lists fourteen (14) different federal interstate systems that move through Indiana:
Which means that if there’s any place in the country where we need to be aware and alert for dangerous drivers, and the risk we’re taking in being on the roads with them these days, it’s here.
“There is a culture of indifference for far too many drivers when it comes to road safety. The vast majority of motorists believe they are more careful than others on the road, though most of them are not making safe decisions while behind the wheel. We’re asking every driver to make responsible decisions to make the roads safer for everyone.”
Drugs and Driving
Obviously, things need to be done to combat drunk driving and distracted driving. However, energy also needs to be used to deal with drug-impaired drivers. This is a serious and complex issue, more than many people recognize and understand. Partly this is due to the tremendous number of drugs available to the driver that can impact his or her ability to drive their vehicle.
How many? Currently the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) is tracking over 400 different drugs that are being used by drivers in the United States which cause driving impairment and increase the danger of serious motor vehicle accidents and traffic fatalities.
Some of these drugs are dangerous for drivers and easily accessible at their local supermarket or drug store. Some of them are extremely popular, as well. We referenced NyQuil in our previous post, for instance. Today, another commonplace OTC medicine that can impair drivers: Benadryl, a very popular allergy medication.
From the NTHSA Drug Fact Sheet for Diphenhydramine (aka 2-(diphenylmethoxy)-N,N-dimethylethylamine hydrochloride; diphenhydramine hydrochloride) which can be purchased over the counter under the brand name Benadryl®:
Effects on Driving: The drug manufacturer states that patients should be warned about engaging in activities requiring mental alertness such as driving a car. Diphenhydramine has repeatedly been shown to severely impair tracking and reaction time performance in actual on-the-road driving tests. Single doses of 50 mg have been shown to cause significant impairment during a 90 km highway test (measuring vehicle following, constant speed and lateral position). In contrast, single 25-100 mg doses caused no significant driving effects during a short 15 minute driving test. Using the Iowa Driving Simulator, Weiler et al, 2000 compared the effects of a single oral dose of 50 mg diphenhydramine to the effects corresponding to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1 g/100 mL. Diphenhydramine caused significantly less coherence (ability to maintain a constant distance) and impaired lane keeping (steering instability and crossing center line) compared to alcohol. Overall driving performance was the poorest after taking diphenhydramine, and participants were most drowsy after taking diphenhydramine (before and after testing). The authors concluded that diphenhydramine clearly impairs driving performance, and may have an even greater impact than does alcohol on the complex task of operating a motor vehicle.
Fighting Against Drug-Impaired Drivers and the Dangers of a Fatal Accident By a Drugged Driver
The Governors’ Highway Safety Association has compiled its own recommendations on what states can and should do to fight against the dangers of drug-impaired driving. According to the State Governors’ group, they recommend:
1. elevating drug-impaired driving to a national priority;
2. adopting drug per se (zero tolerance) drug impairment laws;
3. amending statutes to provide separate and distinct sanctions for alcohol- and drug-impaired driving that could be applied individually or in combination to a single case;
4. adopting enhanced penalties for multiple (poly-) drug use (including alcohol) while driving as the combination of alcohol and other drugs should be considered an aggravated offense;
5. developing standard protocols or procedures for drug testing laboratories to use in identifying drugs that impair driving;
6. providing increased training to law enforcement on identifying drugged drivers;
7. increasing testing and reporting of drug testing information on fatally injured drivers; and
8. providing increased training for prosecutors to help in the successful prosecution of drug-impaired drivers.
However, part of the problem today is the easy access to so many different drugs, and the inability of law enforcement to determine if a driver is under the influence of a particular drug. Unlike drunk drivers, there is no standardized Breathalyzer machine that can confirm a driver has a specific type of drug at a certain level in his system at the scene of an accident. Moreover, many people do not assume that they are driving impaired because they have taken some drugs, particularly OTC medicines or drugs prescribed to them by their physician.
This means that serious auto accidents, truck crashes, bus accidents, and other severe motor vehicle accidents and traffic fatalities will need experienced investigators to delve into the reasons for the crash and discover if a medication was a contributing factor to the accident and the victims’ injuries. These investigators may work for law enforcement, the insurance carrier, or the victims’ legal counsel in the civil personal injury or wrongful death action that will proceed independently of any criminal matter.
Drug-impaired driving is a serious danger here in Indiana and Illinois and it’s a very real problem that has not been solved. Be careful out there!