Shaquille O’Neal: ‘Tis the season to crack down on impaired drivers
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The holidays are a time for celebration. The annual office party, a bash at a friend’s house and big family events are gatherings filled with food, fun, drinks and — if you’re at my house — maybe a little pick-up basketball. 

It’s the best time of the year except for one thing. During the holidays, the number of people driving while impaired goes up.

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For a long time, impaired driving was mostly about alcohol. But thanks to increasing awareness and major steps undertaken to improve enforcement, drunk driving fatalities have fallen 51 percent between 1982 and 2015. But what many don’t realize is that driving under the influence of drugs is spiking.

The statistics on drugged driving are alarming. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently found that 40 percent of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs when test results were available. When NHTSA tested nighttime drivers on weekends, it found 22.5 percent tested positive for drugs compared to only 1.5 percent who tested over the legal limit for alcohol.

The bottom line is that there are many drivers who are dangerously impaired by drugs on our roads today. We need to deal with this problem in several ways and we all need to become much more aware of the facts. In fact, right now, there are people who believe marijuana does not affect one’s ability to drive.

With some states legalizing cannabis, more people are likely to get behind the wheel after using. Other illegal substances, such as opiates, cocaine, meth, and other designer drugs, are also an emerging problem on our roads. It is critically important to know that it is no safer to drive high than it is to drive drunk.

We also need to make people aware that certain medications can affect a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely, too. Drivers should put away the keys when using certain prescription or over-the-counter medications and should always check the label.

As problematic as drugged driving has become, there is a lot we can do to solve this problem.

As a reserve officer with the Doral, Florida Police Department, I believe that hands down, the most effective step we can take to fight drug-impaired driving is to empower police departments. 

Today, most Driving Under the Influence (DUI) police training and procedures deal with alcohol.

But, the symptoms and behaviors of drug users can be much different, and many officers are not trained to spot individuals on drugs.

When police do suspect drug use by someone behind the wheel, enforcement action can be complicated. We all know there is a legal limit for alcohol when driving, but no standard exists for marijuana. Such issues make it harder for police to keep us all safe.

Thankfully, change is happening.

Many police departments are increasing their use of drug recognition experts, or DREs. These are officers specially trained to identify and respond to drug impairment. Still, there aren’t enough DREs nationwide. According to a recent survey of law enforcement officers, one in four agencies report they have zero certified DREs.

Putting more DREs on the streets will improve police response to situations involving drugs and help keep drug-impaired drivers from hurting themselves and others. Law enforcement needs more resources to invest in training DREs and developing other tools to fight drugged driving.

I care deeply about this issue. In high school, I lost a friend to driving under the influence. And I have never forgotten. Since then, I have tried to do my part to keep other families from suffering that loss. 

Since 2012, I have been working with Responsibility.org to help reduce all types of impaired driving. I am proud to be a part of their efforts to help make Congress more aware of the challenges facing law enforcement as they work to slow the emerging threat of drug-impaired driving on our country’s roads.

Life is a great gift. This holiday season, don’t get behind the wheel if you are impaired—don’t drive drunk, drowsy, distracted or drugged. Stop friends and family members from doing the same.

O’Neal is an NBA Hall of Fame basketball player, and a reserve police officer with Doral County, FL. On Wednesday he will join responsibility.org for a Capitol Hill briefing to discuss equipping police officers with the resources to combat impaired driving.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.