FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 16, 2012
SCHUMER SECURES FEDERAL FUNDING IN FIGHT TO COMBAT ‘DRUGGED DRIVING’ – OPERATING A VEHICLE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF NARCOTICS LIKE OXYCONTIN; INVESTMENT WILL ALLOW POLICE TO IDENTIFY DRUGGED DRIVERS AND SAVE LIVES
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that a surface transportation reauthorization bill, which has passed the Senate and awaits approval in the House, will include federal funds to combat drugged driving. Schumer has fought tirelessly since January of this year for passage of legislation that would allow the use of federal highway funding for the development of technologies that can help officers identify drugged drivers on site, at traffic stops. The bill would also provide funds for states to help increase training of officers to spot the telltale signs of drugged drivers. Schumer’s major victory for law enforcement’s efforts to detect drugged drivers comes just weeks after he announced that drugged driving arrests in New York State have risen 35% since 2001, at the same time that prescription drug abuse is becoming an epidemic. Despite the growth in drugged driving arrests over the last 10 years, the total number of arrests pales in comparison to drunk driving arrests, in large part because of the myriad obstacles to identifying drugged drivers on the road.
“Congress is one step closer to unlocking vital funds that will allow law enforcement to identify drugged drivers and put them behind bars,” said Schumer. “I fought hard for this legislation, and now that it has passed the Senate, I am urging the House to give law enforcement the tools and training they need to make our roads safer. If this legislation passes the House, it will be an historic moment for Congress, law enforcement and everyone who drives their kids to school – they will remember this day as a milestone in safeguarding our roads from drugged drivers. Our cops need a breathalyzer-like technology that works to identify drug-impaired drivers, on-the-spot, before they cause irreparable harm. With the explosive growth of prescription drug abuse, I will do everything in my power so that members of local law enforcement have the tools and training they need to identify those driving under the influence of narcotics to get them off the road.”
In 2009, over 10.5 million Americans admitted that they had driven under the influence of drugs. Unlike drunk driving, police departments do not have the technology to detect drugged drivers at traffic stops, in the same way that police are able to detect drunk drivers with breathalyzers. Additionally, underscoring the need for better training, drugged drivers often don’t immediately demonstrate the same level of disorientation that drunk drivers do, making it more difficult for police officers to identify those under the influence of narcotics during routine traffic stops.
Schumer’s victory came via the Senate-passed surface transportation bill, which provides funding to federal highway safety programs, which could now be used to conduct research into drug-impaired driving technologies and initiatives and award grants which can be used for drug recognition training and other measures to reduce drug impaired driving. Though no detection devices have been approved or are currently employed in police patrol cars to allow officers to immediately test for drugged driving, systems such as saliva swab tests are in development and such research could receive this funding.
Schumer’s fight to combat drugged driving has been waged amidst a series of high-profile accidents and deaths related to drugged driving over the course of the last year in the New York metropolitan region. In December of 2011, two separate incidents of drugged driving resulted in the deaths of a mother from Medford and a five-year-old boy from West Islip. In the case of the Medford woman, a driver allegedly under the influence of prescription drugs crashed and killed a young mother while she was standing at the back of her car, and her four-year-old child was strapped into a car seat. In a separate incident, a five-year-old boy from West Islip was killed when a driver, who was found to have two partly filled bottles of oxycodone in the vehicle, struck the pick-up truck the boy’s father was driving.
Throughout New York State, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, there were a total of 2,248 drugged driving arrests in 2011 (not including those identified at the same time as an alcoholic related DWI stop), up from 1,669 in 2001, representing a 35% increase over the last decade.
· In New York City, there were a total of 357 drugged driving arrests in 2011, up from 81 in 2001
· On Long Island, there were a total of 530 drugged driving arrests in 2011, up from 377 in 2001
According to a 2007 National Roadside Survey, conducted by NHTSA, more than 16 percent of weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal prescriptions or over-the-counter medications and more than 11 percent tested positive for illicit drugs. NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which tracks fatal car accidents, found that of the 12,055 deceased drivers who were tested for drugs in 2009, one third tested positive. The Institute for Behavior and Health estimates that 440,000 people were injured in car crashes caused by drugged driving during that same year. The scourge of drugged driving is also having a serious impact on America’s youth. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs showed that 30% of high school seniors reported that they have either driven under the influence of drugs themselves, or been a passenger in a car driven by a drugged driver.
Schumer’s effort to include funding for office training and technology development was originally included in Mariah’s Act, which passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee in December 2011. The bill reauthorized the nation's transportation safety programs, and passed the Senate as part of a larger highway bill. The legislation reforms the nation's transportation safety programs conducted through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to make them more efficient, and provides funding to ensure that these important programs have the resources they need. The current surface transportation bill, which also includes money for road, bridges and transit systems, as well as safety requirements for commercial buses and trucks, expires on March 31. Schumer is urging House members to take immediate action and pass the Senate bill to reauthorize the nation’s transportation programs for two years, helping to provide continued funding for vital safety programs and helping the state better plan its infrastructure priorities.