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Director Kerlikowske Speaks at the World Traffic Safety Symposium

Curbing drugged driving requires a unified, coordinated effort that emphasizes the important roles of education, policymaking, and legislation.

I was honored today to serve as keynote speaker at the World Traffic Safety Symposium (WTSS), part of the New York International Auto Show. The symposium, hosted by the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, brought advocacy and community organizations together to raise awareness on drugged driving. Experts from the National Traffic Safety Board, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Road Safety Foundation spent the day discussing the issue and identifying possible solutions.

The toll drugged driving takes on our Nation is greater than many people realize. According to a 2010 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 1 in 3 drivers with known drug test results who were killed in a motor vehicle crash in 2009 tested positive for drugs (illicit substances as well as over-the-counter and prescription medications). The report from NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System also showed that drivers under age 35 represent nearly half (46 percent) of all drug-involved fatally injured drivers and 40 percent of all drivers killed on America’s roadways.

The President’s stated goal is to reduce drugged driving 10 percent by the year 2015. To this end, ONDCP is working closely with groups in the public and private sectors to highlight the issue of drugged driving. We have joined forces with Federal partners such as the Department of Transportation and NHTSA, as well as with key advocacy organizations, including MADD, the National Organizations for Youth Safety, SADD, and RADD – the Entertainment Industry’s Voice for Road Safety.

Curbing drugged driving requires a unified, coordinated effort that emphasizes the important roles of education, policymaking, and legislation. To increase public safety on the Nation’s roads, I encourage states to examine enhanced legal responses such as per se, or “zero-tolerance,” laws that make it easier to keep drugged drivers off the road. Seventeen states currently have per se statutes, and I urge others to consider adopting these standards.

In my three years as the Director of the National Drug Control Policy, I have been impressed by the effort and dedication I’ve seen among Americans working to rid their country of social ills such as substance abuse and violence. While in New York for today’s symposium, for example, I dropped by Phoenix House, where I learned about a new program called West Side Story Project. This program uses theater to bring young people, police officers, and other community partners together to discuss and learn about violence prevention. It’s this kind of innovative approach that can help us address a variety of social issues.

Thanks to public awareness campaigns by MADD and others over the past three decades, our Nation has seen a significant drop in the prevalence of drunk driving. There is no reason why we can’t achieve the same success against the threat of drugged driving.

R. Gil Kerlikowske is Director of National Drug Control Policy