Seek Fed Help To Pull Them Over
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, joined by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, revealed on Sunday, Jan. 29, that drugged driving arrests in New York State have risen 35 percent since 2001, at the same time that prescription drug abuse is becoming epidemic.
Despite the growth in drugged driving arrests over the last 10 years, however, the total number of arrests pale in comparison to drunk driving arrests, in large part because of the difficulty in identifying drugged drivers on the road.
In 2009, over 10.5 million Americans admitted that they had driven under the influence of drugs. Unlike drunk driving, police departments do not have the technology to detect drugged drivers at traffic stops, in the same way that police are able to detect drunk drivers with breathalyzers.
Additionally, drugged drivers often don’t immediately demonstrate the same level of disorientation that drunk drivers do, making it more difficult for police officers to identify those under the influence of narcotics during routine traffic stops.
Schumer called for passage of legislation that would provide funding to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) that, for the first time, would allow for research on developing technologies that can help officers identify drugged drivers on site, at traffic stops. The bill would also provide funds for states to help increase training of officers to spot the tell-tale signs of drugged drivers.
“Drugged driving is on the rise and our cops need state-of-the-art equipment and better training to identify and apprehend those who are putting innocent victims at risk as a result of their reckless behavior. While drugged driving arrests are on the rise, they pale in comparison to drunk driving arrests, in large part because of the lack of detection devices and the difficulties in identifying those under the influence of narcotics,” said Schumer. “The bottom line is, our cops need a breathalyzerlike technology that works to identify drug-impaired drivers, on-the-spot, before they cause irreparable harm. With the explosive growth of prescription drug abuse it’s vital that local law enforcement have the tools and training they need to identify those driving under the influence of narcotics to get them off the road. We have made tremendous progress in combating drunk driving, we cannot allow those gains to be erased by drugged drivers.”
“Driving while impaired by drugs or medication is a crime that costs thousands of lives each year nationwide,” said Rice. “With prescription drug abuse on the rise, law enforcement needs better technology and training to identify and prosecute drugged drivers.”
The legislation Schumer is pushing, the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Improvement Act of 2011 (otherwise known as Mariah’s Act of 2011), provides funding to the Department of Transportation to conduct research into drug-impaired driving technologies and initiatives and provides grants to states which can be used for drug recognition training and other measures to reduce drug impaired driving.
Though no detection devices have been approved or are currently employed in police patrol cars to allow officers to immediately test for drugged driving, systems such as saliva swab tests are in development and such research could receive this funding.
Schumer is a co-sponsor of the legislation with Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas. The legislation also awards grants to states for the purposes of increasing officer training to curb driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Police officers can become drug recognition experts (DRE) through 200 hours of training, where they are taught to identify tell tale signs of drivers under the use of narcotics.
Officers also can receive less intensive training through the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driver Education (ARIDE) program.
There have been a series of highprofile accidents and deaths related to drugged driving over the course of the last year in the New York metropolitan region. In December of this past year two separate incidents of drugged driving resulted in the deaths of a mother from Medford and a five year old boy from West Islip.
In the case of the Medford woman, a driver allegedly under the influence of prescription drugs crashed and killed a young mother while she was standing at the back of her car, and her four year old child was strapped into a car seat. In a separate incident, a five year old boy from West Islip was killed when a driver who was found to have two partly filled bottles of oxycodone in the vehicle struck the pick-up truck his father was driving.
Throughout New York State, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, there were a total of 2,248 drugged driving arrests in 2011 (not including those identified at the same time as an alcoholic related DWI stop), up from 1,669 in 2001, representing a 35 percent increase over the last decade.
In New York City, there were a total of 357 drugged driving arrests in 2011, up from 81 in 2001, representing a 340 percent increase.
According to a 2007 National Roadside Survey, conducted by NHTSA, more than 16 percent of weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal prescriptions or over-the-counter medications and more than 11 percent tested positive for illicit drugs.
NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which tracks fatal car accidents, found that of the 12,055 deceased drivers who were tested for drugs in 2009, one-third of drivers tested positive.
Drugged driving is also having a serious impact on America’s youth, according to Schumer. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs showed that 30 percent of high school seniors reported that they have either driven under the influence of drugs themselves, or been a passenger in a car driven by a drugged driver.
Schumer’s effort to include funding for office training and technology development is included in Mariah’s Act, which passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee in December 2011. The bill reauthorizes the nation’s transportation safety programs, and will likely go to the Senate floor for consideration as part of a larger highway bill.
Schumer is urging for Congress to take immediate action and pass the Senate bill to reauthorize the nation’s transportation programs for two years, helping to provide continued funding for vital safety programs and helping the state better plan its infrastructure priorities.