Speeches and Presentations

Ideas to Impact: A Dialogue to Address Drug-Impaired Driving

Opening and Closing Remarks, as Prepared Heidi R. King, Deputy Administrator of NHTSA

Monday, September 17, 2018 | Linthicum Heights, MD

Welcome, all of you, to our very special dialogue today on an important topic.

At the Department of Transportation and at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, safety is our top priority.

We are here today because I have learned from you – many of you in this room, and many people outside this room – of the growing evidence that drug impairment has joined alcohol impairment among our Nation’s drivers, presenting a growing risk to safety on our highways and in our communities.

At NHTSA, we take pride in being a data-driven agency. But sometimes a public safety problem emerges before we develop robust national statistics.

We learned from safety partners in our communities that the country is changing. That the increased availability of marijuana products and the opioid crisis means that there are more drivers who are impaired by those drugs. 

We learned that many people are combining drugs with alcohol.

We learned that many drivers don’t realize that some of their medicines are impairing too—prescribed medicines and over-the-counter. 

From our own research, I learned not only that marijuana is increasingly acceptable, but that many users believe they drive better when they are high

Science says otherwise. Impairment is impairment, and it doesn’t matter whether it is caused by alcohol, drugs, or a combination; a driver who is cognitively impaired presents a safety risk on our roadways.

Today’s event represents an important step in the national journey to combat drug- and alcohol-impaired driving. We took our first steps in March, in Washington, DC. Since then, the dialogue has taken us to Seattle, to Nashville, and now Baltimore. 

We are visiting leaders and experts in our communities to learn directly from people on the front lines of the struggle against drug- and alcohol-impaired driving fatalities and injuries – people like you – to hear what we can all do together to solve this problem.

And we are also taking action. We are conducting research to understand how to help drivers make safer decisions.

Last month, NHTSA launched a public education campaign, “If you feel different, you drive different. Drive high, get a DUI.” And we continue to coordinate with safety partners, raising our voices to reach every American to make sure that drivers have the awareness they need to make good decisions.

Watch our new public awareness video.

During today’s dialogue, you’ll hear from a number of experts as they discuss what works, and what doesn’t. They’ll give us ideas on how to combat the problem and the challenges before us.

Your input today will help us lay out a vision to:

  • Educate the public on the dangers of drug-impaired driving;
  • Build the capacity of the criminal justice system to address the issue; and
  • Improve the data that we need to better assure safety on the roads that we use to get to work, to school, and throughout our lives.

The information we hear today is so important because it will allow us to find solutions together – solutions that work – to combat drug-impaired driving.

It will help us in our work with partners in Congress and in the States, in our communities and in our neighborhoods, and to generate activities with other stakeholders not represented in the room today – to address the life-threatening problem of drug-impaired driving.

So let’s get started.

Closing remarks, as prepared

Six months ago, we convened a Call to Action. 

As I mentioned to you earlier this afternoon, the initiative was launched in March in Washington, DC, and we’ve traveled across the country to hear from leaders and communities like Baltimore. We’ve hosted public meetings in Seattle and Nashville, but we’re not slowing down – we are gaining momentum.

We will continue to assemble the pieces of the puzzle with public meetings in other parts of the country: We are planning meetings in Illinois, Arizona, California, Florida, and other States.

These public meetings will be available on the NHTSA website, along with other material generated in the campaign to combat drug-impaired driving.

Also on NHTSA’s website: Material to help you spread the word, that “If you feel different, you drive different.” You’ll also see more in our social media campaign on this issue.

You are part of the process. Two expert working groups have formed to help us devise a path forward in two of the most challenging areas: 

  • Toxicology and Data 
  • State Criminal Justice System Capacity 

In fact, the Toxicology and Data expert group meets tomorrow. If any of those working group members are in the room, thank you. Your work will help change the course of the Nation.

And to all of you: Your input today will help us lay out a vision to educate the public, to strengthen the criminal justice system to assure safety, and to improve the data that we need to combat the problem.

I am so glad that you are here to take part because YOU are important. 

On behalf of all of the men and women of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation, thank you.

Together, we will make our roads safer.

Together, we will save lives.