While drunk drivers have always been a serious problem on American roadways, in recent years, driving under the influence of drugs has become increasingly more prevalent nationwide, including in Illinois. The Governors Highly Safety Association (GHSA) released a vehicle crash data report involving fatally injured drivers. Studies have shown that nearly 45% of all driver suffering a fatal injury tested positive for drugs in their system, which is a significant rise from a decade ago when 26% of fatally injured motorists tested positive.
The GHSA-funded report revealed that in 2016, 38% of the car accident fatalities involving drugs involved marijuana, 16% tested positive with opioids in their system and 4% had both. More than half tested positive for at least two drug and 49% drivers that suffered a fatal injury with alcohol in their system also had tested positive for drugs. Results of the study showed that the effects of driving while impaired with alcohol or drugs tend to produce comparable results. However, law enforcement faces many challenges in identifying drug-impaired motorists behind the wheel. It can be extremely difficult to automatically detect a drug impairment. While there are dozens of illegal drugs and prescription medications that can impair a driver’s ability to operate their vehicle safely, developing an effective field test that can identify the diversity of most medications can be overwhelming. Currently, no equipment exists to help police officers measure drug impairment reliably while conducting a traffic stop. Presently, crash investigators must rely on of other methods including toxicology tests to establish legal liability.
The report shows that marijuana use while driving continues to increase at an alarming rate. In April 2017, twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Most recently, West Virginia authorized their citizens to have legal access to medical marijuana starting in July 2019. Other states allow recreational use including California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington State and the District of Columbia. Additionally, there are thirteen states not listed above that no longer criminalize possession of marijuana in small amounts.