Mike Brown is the Chief of the Impaired Driving and Occupant Protection Division at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a former Commissioner of the California Highway Patrol. In his current position, he is responsible for coordinating the United State’s policy and programs concerning impaired driving prevention activities and strategies to improve occupant protection. During this episode we discuss why December is an important month to remind everyone to not drink and drive and what is being done to prevent impaired driving across the country.
In many parts of the world, the month of December is a time to celebrate the holiday season; between Hanukkah, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve, it is a virtual cornucopia of festivities. For some people, these festivities mean celebrating with family and friends, which at times includes alcohol—and that is when it can get deadly.
December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month
On November 29th, President Obama declared December 2013 to be National Impaired Driving Prevention Month. NHTSA will be extremely active in December working with its partners everywhere, promoting the messages of ‘Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving’ and ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.’
In the United States, 760 people lost their lives from impaired driving during December of 2011, with a total of 4,169 in the December months from 2007 to 2011. While impaired driving happens all year ‘round, the holiday season is a particularly dangerous time. Because of these devastating facts, law enforcement will be out in force cracking down on impaired drivers from December 17, 2013 through January 1, 2014.
Impaired Driving from Other Drugs
Alcohol is not the only drug that causes impaired driving. Other drugs are playing an increasingly deadly role. From research done by NHTSA, of the drivers tested for alcohol and other drugs, nearly 16% were positive for a drug other than alcohol. This is not to say that everyone was using an illegal drug. Prescription and over-the-counter medications were found as well. It is essential to remember that impaired driving can also occur from medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. That is why we must understand how any medication may impact the person taking it or interact with other medication being taken.
Make Plans Beforehand
Even one drink can impair someone’s judgment and increase the risk of getting arrested for impaired driving, or worse, killing someone. That is why it is important to make plans before heading out for the evening. Easy plans include:
- Designating a sober driver before the party begins
- Planning to call a taxi or using public transportation
- Making plans to stay where you are drinking
If hosting a party, stop serving alcohol as the evening wears on, and be responsible—friends don’t let friends drive after drinking.
One option that more communities are developing is free cab rides home. Called SoberRide in the Washington, DC area, the program is typically funded through sponsors and donations, and works with local cab companies to provide impaired adults (over the age of 21) cab rides home. In many locations the ride is free. WRAP (Washington Regional Alcohol Program) organizes the DC SoberRide program. To see a list of programs nationwide, click here.
Celebrate the Holiday Season Safely
It is the Holiday Season, a time to celebrate with family and friends. It is not a time to stop thinking. It is not a time to drink and drive. Take the time to plan ahead. Decide where to go with family or friends. Choose which celebrations to attend. Then make plans on how to get home safely. It is the Holiday Season—a time to make plans to be safe, for one and all.
What plans have you made for a safe holiday season? Let me know in the comments below.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
- NHTSA Traffic Safety Marketing
- Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) – 2013 National Drug Control Strategy
- Sober Rides – National Listing
- Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP)
- 2011 Impaired Driving Numbers
- 2012 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview
- 2013 NHTSA Holiday Campaign Fact Sheet
- National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers (2007)
- Presidential Proclamation – December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month
- Highway to Safety Podcast—Episode 4: Drugged Driving
Dr. Robert DuPont, President of the Institute for Behavior and Health, provides a comprehensive perspective on preventing drugged driving. As the first Director for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the second White House Drug Chief, Dr. DuPont has been a leader in drug abuse prevention for decades. In this episode Dr. DuPont and I talk about drugged driving and the steps that can be taken to reduce its pervasiveness.
The latest research demonstrates drugged driving is pervasive and widespread. A 2007 national survey to determine the extent of drugs present found that of the drivers tested, nearly 16% tested positive for drugs – 11% illegal drugs, 4% prescription drugs and 1% both illegal and prescription. In another national study, of the drivers killed in 2009 in motor vehicle crashes with known drug-test results, one-third tested positive for drugs.
According to Dr. DuPont and others, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), drugged driving is at an epidemic status. Steps must be taken now to improve safety on our roads. For many years, the focus has been on alcohol-impaired driving, but it is no longer just about alcohol or just about other drugs. It is not either/or, it is both. We must look at the broader issue of “substance-impaired driving.”
Drugged Driving and Prescription Medication
When talking specifically about drugged driving, we need to recognize that it is often the result of prescription and over-the-counter medications. It is critical that we understand the consequences of taking medicine, and follow the instructions. For instance, drinking alcohol while on medication can result in serious unintended consequences. Drugged driving can also be a concern when someone is starting a newly prescribed medication or has recently increased the dosage of their usual prescription, or is concurrently taking several different drugs.
Drugged Driving and Illegally Obtained Drugs
According to Dr. DuPont, the more immediate and easier situation to address are those individuals who:
- Use illegal drugs and then drive, or
- Take prescription mediation that is not prescribed for them, or
- Obtain prescriptions when there is no medical need.
Those intent on abusing prescription medications can obtain them through a variety of methods, such as the black-market or “pill mill” doctor, or by going to a doctor and convincing that doctor that the need is genuine. People that abuse drugs will lie about their symptoms, and at times it is hard for a doctor to determine the truth. That may require physicians to start drug testing all of their patients. As Dr. DuPont noted, while such a step may offend some patients, it is an important process to ensure the medication is being prescribed for a legitimate purpose. These routine drug tests would also serve to inform doctors about other medications the patient is taking.
Pill mill doctors are doctors who are not operating ethically, and typically provide pain medication under the guise of treating the person. The pharmaceutical chain CVS attempted to shut down this type of doctor by examining its prescription data. After finding that a few doctors had written an unusually large number of prescriptions, CVS declared that these doctors would no longer have dispensing privileges. And what is “an unusually large number of prescriptions?” One doctor whose privileges were suspended had prescribed more than 44,000 doses of high-risk drugs, compared to other doctors in his region who had prescribed 662 doses.
Recommendations by Dr. DuPont
In wrapping up, Dr. DuPont has two key recommendations to reduce drug impaired driving:
- Regularly drug test everyone who is arrested and convicted for impaired driving, whether it is because of alcohol or other drugs, and
- Every state must pass a ‘per se” law to address those who drive with illegal drugs or with prescription medication without a prescription. It is a law with a zero tolerance for illegal drugs. As he noted, this is similar to the ‘per se’ laws already in effect for alcohol nationwide.
In my closing comments I note the importance of parents talking to their children about drugged driving. ONDCP has developed a very useful tool kit with the facts on the dangers of teen and young adult drugged driving, and activities for effective prevention, a link can be found below.
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
- Institute for Behavior and Health Website
- National Institute on Drug Abuse
- Office of National Drug Control Policy – Drugged Driving
- Stop Drugged Driving Website
- 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers – NHTSA
- Drug Involvement of Fatally Injured Drivers – NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts – November, 2010
- Drugged Driving White Paper – IBH
- Drug Use and Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes
- CVS Suspends Privileges of Doctors
- Traffic Safety Guy Blog – Drugged Driving: The Time Has Come for Action
One Person Can Be a Beacon of Change
Gerald Waters is one of New Zealand’s leading advocates on ways to effectively respond to alcohol and drug offenders. In 2010, his dear friend Katherine Kennedy was killed because of a drink driver. (“Drink Driving” is how New Zealand refers to impaired driving.) Gerald has committed himself to learning about, researching, and promoting evidence-based ways to end drink driving.
Hearing that the man who killed his friend had 17 prior drink driving convictions, and yet he was still drinking and driving, was “madness.” After this terrible tragedy, Gerald turned to understanding why this madness occurred. It was that journey that allowed him to develop his research and ultimately his message of change. Using his evidence-based research papers, and a drive for understanding, Gerald has brought together an impressive coalition of partners, and is changing how New Zealand responds to drink drivers. In this episode, Gerald discusses his journey and lets us hear about his perseverance and determination.
During our conversation, Gerald talks about building the coalition, and how he met individuals all across New Zealand who agreed with his research, and had previously felt that they were left in the dark, alone. With the power of his writing and the passion of his voice, Gerald let those individuals know that they were not alone and change is possible. He has become an inspiration of positive change. Because of Gerald’s activities, New Zealand has taken a fresh look at ending drink driving through the use of ignition interlock devices, DWI/Drug Courts, and more. Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Change is happening in New Zealand, and it can happen where you live.
Wrapping up, the Traffic Safety Guy discusses making changes in our own lives. It shouldn’t take the loss of a family member or friend for us to care. All it takes is an understanding that individually we can make a difference. “Change” starts at home. It means talking the talk and walking the walk. As a positive role model for not drinking and driving, we can impact our family and friends and save lives. As a positive role model we can all be an inspiration and make a difference.
Gerald Water’s Websites:
A Partial List of Gerald Water’s Research:
- Submission to the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee
- The Case for Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts in New Zealand
- Was This Preventable?
Global Road Safety:
Richard Roth’s Website:
Impaired driving has been a part of our culture for over a century, with nearly 10,000 people now killed annually. Can we stop it, once and for all, so that no one else is killed by an impaired driver?
Dr. Mark Rosekind, NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) Board Member, is a leading expert on the steps to take to end impaired driving. In this episode, Dr. Rosekind provides an overview of NTSB’s 19 research-based recommendations to achieve that goal. These recommendations cover a wide variety of perspectives—everything from stopping the social drinker from taking the risk of driving after drinking, to getting the repeat DWI (Driving While Impaired) offender to change his or her behavior. The recommendations also look at a number of actions and tools that can be used in this critical effort, such as ignition interlocks, DWI courts, and sobriety checkpoints. This conversation with Dr. Rosekind examines some of these topics in detail, including:
- What ignition interlocks are and the critical role they play
- The DADSS program (The car of the future?)
- Reducing the BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) from .08% to .05%, and
- DWI Courts for the repeat DWI offender
Laying out the steps NTSB took to develop these recommendations, and detailing what several of them mean, Dr. Rosekind provides a comprehensive discussion on how we can end impaired driving. At the end of our conversation, Dr. Rosekind provides his suggestions on what we as individuals can do to make a difference and save lives.
Also during this episode, I talk about why we need a recommitment to stopping impaired driving, and an understanding what a .08% BAC means, referencing the B4U Drink Educator.
This podcast was also video-recorded. You can watch some of the clips from this conversation by going to the Videos page on this website.