On June 12, 2008, a drugged driver in Putnam County, New York, struck and killed a bicyclist – a married, 48-year-old father of two. The driver was allegedly under the influence of morphine and marijuana at the time of the accident. Unfortunately, incidents like these are increasingly common in the United States, leaving more families to mourn the loss of a loved one taken too soon.
Conversations about impaired driving are nothing new for American families. The archetype of an innocent victim killed by a drunk driver is both an immediately recognizable story and an unfortunate reality for too many people. While drunk driving has become a social taboo, there is less awareness about the dangers of driving after consuming drugs, which can carry the same lethal consequences as alcohol-impaired driving. Drugged driving isn’t a new trend, but with current conversations regarding the legal status of certain substances, the Office of National Drug Control Policy seeks to increase awareness of the potentially tragic yet 100-percent avoidable consequences associated with drugged driving. In the same way that Americans have banded together to prevent drunk driving over the past few decades, it’s time we also make the prevention of drugged driving a national priority.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers, 16 percent of weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for the presence of illicit drugs or medications with the ability to affect driving skills in 2007. In the years since the survey was conducted, there has been an increase in both prescription and non-medical drug use that, at any level of consumption, may affect a driver’s perception, judgment, motor skills, and/or memory. ONDCP is collaborating with the Department of Transportation and other Federal agencies to combat drugged and drunk driving to keep our roads safe. In the 2014 National Drug Control Strategy, the Administration highlights a plan to reduce drugged driving by 10 percent by 2015, including encouraging states to enact per se (similar to zero tolerance) drugged driving laws, and to improve law enforcement efforts to identify drugged drivers.
If the shift in social norms against drunk driving tells us anything, it’s that the voices of average Americans can make a difference. With the help of Americans everywhere, we can send the message that drugged driving should not be tolerated any more than drunk driving—that we are dedicated to keeping our children safe. This December, as we recognize National Impaired Driving Prevention Month, remember how important it is that we come together with a unified message: Drugged driving is dangerous.
Michael Botticelli serves as Acting Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.