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40 million in United States driving drunk or drugged

January 2, 2011
By PAT ROSS, Administrative Assistant,

Columbiana County MHRS Board

Despite massive efforts to curb drunk driving, 30 million Americans are driving drunk, and another 10 million are driving impaired by illicit drugs.

A new survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that on average more than 13 percent of all persons 16 or older drove under the influence of alcohol and over 4 percent of this age group drove under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year.

Drivers aged 16 to 25 had a much higher rate of drunk driving compared with those aged 26 and older. Those aged 16 to 25 also had a higher rate of drugged driving than those aged 26 and older.

"This is a pretty high percentage of people that are operating a motor vehicle under the influence of something," said Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. "There has been a small decline in the number of those driving drunk or drugged, but even though we are making advances, we still have a ways to go. The reality is any numbers are concerning."

According to 2008 drunk driving statistics, Ohio ranks 9th in the country in alcohol-related fatalities with 415 (35 percent of total fatalities), and 9th in alcohol-impaired fatalities with 356 (30 percent of total fatalities). Alcohol-related could involve either the driver or a non-passenger of the vehicle with a blood alcohol level of .01 or higher. Alcohol-impaired means the driver has a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher.

Know the terminology:

DUI - Driving Under the Influence

DWI - Driving While Intoxicated/Impaired

OWI - Operating a Motor Vehicle While Intoxicated/Impaired

Violations are based upon a police officer's observations such as driving behavior, slurred speech, or the results of a roadside sobriety test. First and second offenses are 1st degree misdemeanors; a third offense is a misdemeanor, and subsequent offenses are 4th degree felonies. Since 2002, it has been illegal in all 50 states to drive with a blood alcohol level that is .08 or higher.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy is working with Federal agencies to raise public awareness about the high prevalence of drugged driving in our country and to provide resources for parents of new drivers about how to talk to their children about drugs.

Pamela Hyde, Administrator of the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, said "Thousands of people die each year as a result of drunk and drugged driving, and the lives of thousands of family members and friends left behind are forever scarred. Some progress has been made in reducing the levels of drunk and drugged driving through education, enhanced law enforcement and public outreach efforts. However, the nation must continue to work to prevent this menace and confront these dangerous drivers in an aggressive way."

"While we have understood for some time the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol, much less is known or discussed about drivers under the influence of other drugs," said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy. "This new data adds to other emerging research revealing that there is an alarmingly high percentage of Americans on our roadways with drugs in their system. At a time when drug use is on the rise, it is crucial that communities act today to address the threat of drugged driving as we work to employ more targeted enforcement and develop better tools to detect the presence of drugs among drivers."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a website which provides more detailed information about the dangers of drunk and drugged driving and what can be done to help combat the problem.

For local resources, check the MHRS Board's website:



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