National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske was joined by Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto, Nevada Department of Public Safety Director Jerry Hafen, and STOP DUI Executive Director Sandy Heverly at a press conference at the Nevada Highway Patrol Building in Las Vegas, Nevada to highlight the prevalence and public safety threat of drugged driving.
According to the National Highway and Safety Administration's (NHTSA) 2007 National Roadside Survey, more than 16 percent of weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter medication. More than 11% tested positive for illicit drugs—five times as many as were under the influence of alcohol—a sign that continued substance abuse education, prevention, and law enforcement efforts are critical to public health and safety.
"The troubling data shows us the scope of drugged driving in America, and reinforces the need to reduce drug abuse," said Director Kerlikowske. "Drugged driving, like drunk driving, puts us all at risk and must be prevented."
Since 1973, the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration and/or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have conducted four national surveys to estimate the prevalence of drinking and driving. The 2007 survey included for the first time measures to estimate the prevalence of drugged driving. The survey sampled approximately 7,500 daytime and nighttime drivers on a random and voluntary basis in the continental United States. Survey results show 70 percent declines in drunk driving since 1973 but the percentage of drivers testing positive for illegal drugs suggests the need for substance abuse education and prevention and law enforcement efforts to reduce this dangerous behavior.
Federal, state, and local agencies are already taking steps to prevent and reduce drunk and drugged driving. Earlier today, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced the start of a national coordinated effort to crackdown on impaired driving. The campaign, Over the Limit. Under Arrest, will be aggressively enforced during a two-week period through Labor Day." Through the Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) program, the Federal government also supports state and local jurisdictions efforts to detect and arrest drug-impaired drivers. To date, nearly 1,000 instructors have been prepared and over 6,000 officers in 46 states trained to recognize the symptoms of driver impairment by drugs other than alcohol. The DEC program also provides training to prosecutors and judges to help states to successfully prosecute drug-impaired drivers. Other programs focus on prevention, such as the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, which centers on youth and parents and has developed free resources to prevent drugged, drunk, and distracted driving among teenagers. These materials are available at www.theantidrug.com/.
Attorney General Cortez-Masto, who chairs the Nevada Impaired Driving Advisory Coalition, said "The Coalition recognizes impaired driving is a significant threat to the safety of the public and that the roadway carnage caused by impaired drivers results in death, injury, and hardship to countless innocent victims. We support NHTSA's 2009 Impaired Driving National Enforcement Crackdown, scheduled from August 21 – September 7, 2009 as an effective law enforcement tool to prevent impaired driving."
Director Hafen discussed the contribution Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) are making to reduce drugged driving and the significant increase in recent years in the number of such experts in Nevada. "In 2006, there were 82 active DREs within the ranks of the Department of Public Safety, Nevada police departments, and sheriff offices throughout the State. In recent years, the Department of Public Safety/ Office of Traffic Safety has implemented an aggressive training campaign to address driving under the influence violations. As a result, we are pleased to report that currently we have 247 DREs in Nevada law enforcement agencies, a 300 percent increase in just 3 years."
Ms. Heverly of STOP DUI, a non-profit organization dedicated to stopping impaired driving and assisting its victims, noted significant reductions over time in the prevalence of drunk driving and discussed how lessons learned about reducing drunk driving can be used to reduce drugged driving. "We've accomplished much during the nearly three decades of dealing with the issue of alcohol impaired driving, however, we must continue applying what we learned from that experience to drugged driving as well."