PA State Police Report Increase in DUI, Drugged Driving Arrests in 2015

Drugged Driving

Pennsylvania State Police last year conducted more than 3,000 presentations to help raise awareness of the perils and consequences of impaired driving. But despite those efforts, troopers arrested 18,801 people for driving under the influence in 2015—an increase of about 6.2 percent over the previous year.

More concerning, perhaps, is that about a quarter of those arrests—about 4,431 of them—involved drugged drivers. For those keeping count, that's a 43 percent jump in the statistics from 2014 to 2015.

According to recent data, nearly 25 people are injured each day in Pennsylvania in a drunk-driving accident. But how much of a problem is drugged driving?

The Prevalence of Drugged Driving

Drugged driving is just that: Operating a vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance, prescription medication, or even over-the-counter drug that impairs a motorist's ability to safely drive. Drugged driving has been considered a "significant" public health problem by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The Institute's 2013 National Survey of Drug Abuse showed that an astounding 9.9 million people admitted to driving under the influence of an illicit drug, although experts agree that gauging the severity of the problem is can be tricky.

That's because in many cases, if a driver is pulled over for DUI and is found to have a blood-alcohol content of more than the legal limit of .08 percent, police do not then test for drugs. But studies, surveys and white papers help paint a picture of the prevalence of drugged driving. Consider these statistics:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 2013-14 National Roadside Survey found that 22 percent of drivers arrested for DUI tested positive for drugs (illegal, prescription and over-the-counter varieties).
  • A higher percentage of young drivers between the ages of 18 and 25 reported they drove after taking drugs or drinking than their older counterparts (adults 26 years old and older).
  • One National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study discovered that in 2009, 18 percent of drivers killed in a car accident tested positive for at least one type of drug.
  • The drug most associated with DUI arrests is marijuana. One survey found that 12.6 percent of drivers tested on a weekend night were positive for THC (the active chemical in cannabis). Comparatively, only 8.7 percent of drivers tested positive for the drug in 2007.
  • A 2010 survey found that in fatal crashes, 46.5 percent of drivers who tested positive for drugs had used a prescription drug before getting behind the wheel of an automobile, while 36 percent used marijuana and 9.8 percent used cocaine.

How Do Drugs Affect a Person's Ability to Drive?

Different drugs have different effects on a person's ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. According to the Emergency Medical Services Authority:

  • Marijuana slows drivers' reaction times, decreases coordination, and impairs judgment of time and space. Research shows drivers who used marijuana before climbing behind the wheel were more likely to weave inside their lane of traffic, and will more than likely have poorer situational awareness on the road.
  • Cocaine impairs judgment and can interfere with a driver's ability to concentrate. It can also cause more aggressive and reckless behavior and impair coordination and vision.
  • Tranquilizers can cause drowsiness, and can impair judgment, coordination, and reaction time. Motorists driving under the influence of a tranquilizer may also have trouble staying in their lane of traffic and adhering to road signs and traffic signals.
  • Opiates, like tranquilizers, can cause drowsiness, confusion, and visual impairment, among other things.
  • Amphetamines can effect concentration and vision. It can also cause a person to engage in more aggressive or risky driving behaviors.

Combatting Drugged Driving

Since 2010, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has been working to reduce drugged driving in the United States. As part of that goal, it established several tactics for combatting the problem. Those tactics included:

  • Encouraging states to adopt stricter drugged driving laws (also known as per se laws)
  • Collecting more data on the prevalence of drugged driving
  • Enhancing education and outreach programs related to drugged driving
  • Developing standard screening methods.

Pennsylvania is tackling the problem in part through the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, which is training police officers to understand drugged driving, and be able to successfully spot a drugged driver. Developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and established in 2004, the program trains officers to be Drug Recognition Experts (more commonly referred to as DREs).

Officers interested in becoming Pennsylvania drug recognition experts must first apply to and be accepted into the program. After that:

  • Candidates undergo academic training over a two-week period—72 hours of classroom hours— during which they learn about physiology, vital signs, and the types of drugs abused. They are also trained in how to properly conduct a standardized field sobriety test.
  • Candidates then move on to a certification process that includes 10 consecutive days of training, and field work that deals with drug influence evaluations and more.
  • After successfully meeting those requirements, candidates must take a comprehensive exam before being certified as a Pennsylvania drug recognition expert.

According to the Pennsylvania DUI Association, 333 people died in 2014 from DUI-crashes—which is 333 too many. Hopefully, continued education on the dangers of drugged driving will help shrink the number of associated arrests and crashes the way DUI accident statistics eventually dropped thanks to aggressive enforcement and awareness campaigns.

The personal injury attorneys at Edgar Snyder & Associates have seen first-hand the devastation caused by DUI-related motor vehicle accidents, and remind all our friends to be safe out on the roads. Don't become a statistic—don't drive impaired.

National Institute on Drug Abuse website and "Drugged Driving Research" white paper Pennsylvania State Police May 16 press release Pennsylvania State Police website Pennsylvania DUI Association website National Highway Traffic Safety website