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Alarming trends shown in drugged driving cases PDF Print E-mail

By Jan Schultz, The Imperial Republican News Editor

It comes as no surprise that a University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) study released last month shows big increases in multiple drug use by the drivers involved in vehicle accidents with fatalities. The study indicates more of today’s drivers in those accidents are testing positive for marijuana, prescription drugs and others, and are mixing them.
While the study also showed there has been a decrease in overall fatalities involving drivers under the influence, the percentage of drugged drivers with three or more drugs in their system doubled between 1993 and 2010.
In 1993, one in eight drivers were using multiple drugs when in an accident that killed someone. By 2010, it was closer to one in five, according to the study’s author, Fernando Wilson, Ph.D.
As you’ve been reading in this newspaper, law enforcement in Nebraska counties that border Colorado are becoming concerned with the increase of vehicle stops in this state with drivers in possession of marijuana. Citations are increasing, maybe not as much in Chase County, but there are in others nearby. It’s just a matter of time.
Recreational use of marijuana use was legalized in Colorado as of Jan. 1 this year. Washington State legalized it as of Monday this week, and more states are considering it. While government officials may be touting the millions of dollars they are raking in by taxing the sale of marijuana, what other costs are going to result as time goes on? Is the loss of one life even worth $10 million?? What’s alarming is the study’s results showing more drivers in these accidents are combining drugs like marijuana and alcohol.
I have to agree with the study’s authors who suggest more preventative measures be taken to educate drivers and counseling for the misuse of prescription drugs.
And, since money talks, as lawmakers in marijuana-legal states are showing, I’d also go a step further by making it count in these drivers’ pocketbooks. In Nebraska, it’s merely a slap on the hand now for a first offense marijuana possession charge. Our lawmakers need to make those penalties much stronger. Maybe driver’s licenses should be taken away even after the first offense if tests show they were using marijuana or other drugs while driving and involved in an accident or are pulled over for other offenses.
It’s likely the trend on drugged drivers will continue if a combination of education, counseling and penalties aren’t beefed up.