Drugged driving on the rise in New Jersey

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Drugged driving in fatal New Jersey crashes has increased significantly over the last decade, according to a new analysis by AAA Northeast. Cannabinoids and narcotics were the categories of drugs most commonly detected in fatally injured drivers.

For its analysis, AAA examined the last available decade’s fatality analysis reporting system data on drivers killed in crashes who were screened for drugs and alcohol. The statistics paint a grim picture of the rapidly increasing problem of drugged driving in New Jersey, according to a press release from AAA Northeast.

According to the data, during 2016, 39 percent of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs — 19 percent for cannabinoids and 12 percent for narcotics. Those numbers have increased markedly from 2007, when 15 percent of injured drivers tested positive for drugs — 6 percent for cannabinoids and 3 percent for narcotics.

In 2015 and 2016, more fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs than alcohol, reversing the trend from years 2007 to 2014.

“Numerous factors seem responsible for increased drugged driving, including the use of opioids and more states legalizing marijuana, leading to increased acceptance of marijuana-impaired driving,” Robert Sinclair Jr. of AAA Northeast said in the release.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 64,000 people died from overdoses in 2016, including 20,000 from synthetic opioids and 15,000 from heroin, reflecting the skyrocketing use of those drugs. In 2016, 31 drivers testing positive for narcotics died in crashes in New Jersey, while 49 drivers testing positive for cannabinoids lost their lives.

Among drivers who died in crashes in New Jersey in 2016, 103 tested positive for drugs compared with 92 who tested positive for alcohol. Middlesex County had the most drugged driver deaths with 14. Monmouth was second with 11.

With recreational marijuana legal in nine states and medical marijuana legal in 30 states, more Americans have become open to the use of marijuana and driving. The latest version of the AAA Traffic Safety Culture Index in 2017 shows only 66 percent of those surveyed consider it completely unacceptable to drive within an hour of using marijuana, compared to 76 percent in 2013. This comes as the drug has become more potent. The National Institutes of Health reports that delta-9 THC content in sampled marijuana rose from 4 percent in 1995 to more than 12 percent in 2014. THC is the psychotropic chemical in marijuana.

AAA cautions that whether marijuana is legal or not, all motorists should avoid driving while impaired. Just because a drug is legal, does not mean it’s safe to operate a motor vehicle under the drug’s influence.