Lawmakers worry about rise in drugged driving

Lawmakers worry about rise in drugged driving
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Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing Wednesday on the dangers of drug-impaired driving.

There is growing concern in Congress over the issue as data from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility finds that accidents from drugged driving have been on the rise over the last 10 years.

A recent report showed that 44 percent of fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs in 2016. That number is up from 2006, when just 28-percent of fatally injured drivers were drug-positive.

But lawmakers also pressed for more information about the problem.

While the trend appears to be alarming, Rep. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Trump, Dems open drug price talks | FDA warns against infusing young people's blood | Facebook under scrutiny over health data | Harris says Medicare for all isn't socialism Hillicon Valley: Kremlin seeks more control over Russian internet | Huawei CEO denies links to Chinese government | Facebook accused of exposing health data | Harris calls for paper ballots | Twitter updates ad rules ahead of EU election Patients, health data experts accuse Facebook of exposing personal info MORE (D-Ill.) raised questions the statistics from the GHSA and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility.

“While this statistic, of course, raises concern, I have questions and concerns about the methodology and accuracy of this statement,” Schakowsky said.

She pointed out that there is no nationally accepted way of testing the drug impairment level of drivers. 

“Alcohol continues to cause more deaths than drugs,” Schakowsky said.

Colleen Sheehy-Church, the President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), who testified at the hearing, agreed.

“The truth is that we do not know how many people are killed each year due to drug-impaired driving,” said Sheehy-Church, whose son was killed by a driver who was under the influence of both alcohol and drugs.

MADD, founded in 1980, advocates against drunk driving. The group says focusing on that problem will also help reduce drug-impaired driving.

Lawmakers and experts also debated the impact of marijuana legalization on the issue. Recreational marijuana is now legal in nine states.

“With the prevalence of marijuana legalization — recreation and medicinal — it is critical that more work be done to understand impairment," Sheehy-Church.

"We agree with the recent AAA [American Automobile Association] study, which states, a .08 [blood alcohol content] equivalent may not be possible with marijuana. But we still must better understand how marijuana impairment influences driving behaviors,” she added.

Republican Reps. Larry BucshonLarry Dean BucshonGOP balks at Trump drug pricing plan Overnight Health Care: Trump officials allow states to loosen ObamaCare coverage requirements | GOP lawmakers air concerns with Trump drug price plan | Dem single-payer fight shifting to battle over Medicare 'buy-in' | US life expectancy falls GOP lawmakers air concerns with Trump drug pricing move in meeting with health chief MORE (Ind.) and Leonard LanceLeonard LanceIncoming Dem lawmaker: Trump 'sympathizes' with leaders 'accused of moral transgressions' On The Money: Why the tax law failed to save the GOP majority | Grassley opts for Finance gavel, setting Graham up for Judiciary | Trump says China eager for trade deal | Facebook reeling after damning NYT report Tax law failed to save GOP majority MORE (N.J.) both spoke out against marijuana legalization in their home states during the hearing.

“I personally oppose [legalization] based on medical grounds,” said Bucshon, a former surgeon.

Dr. Robert DuPont, president of the Institute for Behavior and Health, gave lawmakers suggestions to help prevent drug-impaired driving.

DuPont recommended that states implement a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21, hand down the same penalties for drugged driving as for drunk driving and impose additional penalties for those who are impaired by multiple substances.