Tuesday, February 5, 2019 | National Harbor, MD
In California, on a quiet stretch of road alongside the Pacific Ocean, there is a scenic beach cove just beyond a row of trees. The road curves through the trees – I think they are cypress trees.
I often remember a young couple who lost their lives there more than 30 years ago. Driving home late at night, returning home from a party, the driver was impaired and not able to navigate the s-curve in the road. Their car struck one of the trees.
The crew of park rangers and emergency medical responders could not save them. My husband at the time was one of the rescuers, and he returned home exhausted and heartbroken. When a rescuer is also a parent, they see their own children in the young people they try to rescue.
Hours later, I was on duty patrolling that same stretch of road, the bright summer sun warming the sand and shining off the water, beachgoers stepped onto the sand carrying beach chairs and picnic supplies, smiling and laughing, unaware of the tragic loss just hours before. The crash scene had been cleared, debris cleaned up. Looking closely, I could see the small fragments of broken glass and plastic.
I still reflect on the haunting contrast between the terrible aftermath of the crash and the idyllic beach scene restored only hours later. Despite all that we’ve learned as a Nation, the loss of life from drug use, and from drug-impaired driving, continues to claim too many neighbors, friends and family members.
And I worry that, as a Nation, we are like the beachgoers who step over the broken glass, unaware of the loss of life resulting from drug use. And from drug-impaired driving.
I don’t have to tell you that drugs touch all of our lives.
Some users can walk away.
But when a user becomes an impaired driver – when they get behind the wheel – the probability of walking away declines. The decision could be deadly—for the user, and for the community.
Thank you for your work to allow our neighbors, friends and family members to live happier, more satisfying lives.
Thank you for your work to build safer communities, and to address the many complex issues in our families and in our communities that result from drug use.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, known as NHTSA, is a safety agency, and it’s not just our responsibility to lean in and address drug-impaired driving–it’s our mission. It’s our obligation to protect Americans on the roadways and save lives.
We are committed to the mission of saving lives, preventing injuries, and reducing the cost of traffic crashes.
I am here because I have learned from your communities of the evidence that drug impairment in our Nation’s drivers presents a growing risk to our highway safety.
I ask that our time today serves as a call-to-action: action from us in this room, but also action from others outside this room and across the country. Action to address drug-impaired driving.
In 2017, we lost 37,133 of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones in traffic crashes.
Far too many of those lives were lost due to impaired driving.
That’s why I invite you to join us in spreading the word about the dangers of drug-impaired driving.
Drug-Impaired Driving Is Illegal
Operating a vehicle while impaired is illegal in every State and the District of Columbia.
Many drugs influence both physical and cognitive performance – both of which are needed by any driver to drive safely.
Not all impairing substances are illicit; they can be prescription and over-the-counter medications as well, like cold or allergy medicine.
Our data shows a shocking increase in fatally injured drivers testing positive for drugs: From 25 percent in 2007 to 42 percent in 2016.
Not just alcohol, not just one drug – but often several: Toxicology results from Drug Recognition Expert enforcement evaluations found that 37 percent of enforcement evaluations tested positive for poly drug use.
The Problem: Perception of Drugs and Driving
Our law enforcement partners are helping to lower the number of crashes, injuries and deaths due to drug-impaired driving.
- Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE)
- Drug Recognition Experts (DREs)
Together, we must change the way the public thinks about drugs and driving, particularly marijuana.
- We hear marijuana users say time and time again that they believe that they are “better” drivers when they are high.
- They also tell us that while they would never drive drunk, they did not have the same concerns about driving high.
Yet studies show that marijuana impairs psychomotor skills, lane tracking, and cognitive function.
This common misperception is why education – raising public awareness of the risks of driving high, baked, fried, or buzzed – is crucial to saving lives, particularly as more and more States are changing their laws on marijuana use.
If You Feel Different, You Drive Different
Last fall, NHTSA launched a new public education campaign: If You Feel Different, You Drive Different.
The campaign has two elements:
- Education with the If You Feel Different, You Drive Different theme
- Enforcement with the Drive High, Get a DUI theme
We hope you’ll join us to spread this message far and wide and change the way Americans, particularly young people, think about getting behind the wheel.
With CADCA’s expertise in substance abuse prevention, and NHTSA’s expertise in impaired-driving prevention, we can change behaviors and save lives.
We need your help and your voice to save lives.
It’s important to meet with your local leaders, and to include traffic safety leaders in your coalitions.
It’s important to work with your local law enforcement.
To help raise awareness, lead press conferences, talks with the media, visits with schools, and other ways to engage young people.
You can make the difference by bringing your leadership, wisdom and guidance to the fight to stop drug-impaired driving.
Campaign material is available at TrafficSafetyMarketing.gov.
NHTSA will continue to refine its campaign and find new ways to support traffic safety programs.
We share with you the goal of safer communities. We want all members of our communities to have the chance to walk away, to recover, to help others. To make our communities safer.
We want all members of our communities to plan for a safe ride home, so that everyone can get home safely.
If You Feel Different, You Drive Different. Drive High, Get a DUI.