Despite the growth in drugged driving arrests over the last 10 years, however, the total number of arrests pale in comparison to drunk driving arrests, in large part because of the difficulty in identifying drugged drivers on 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 last week called for passage of legislation that would provide funding to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) that, for the first time, would allow for research on developing 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 tell-tale signs of drugged drivers.
“The bottom line is, our cops need a breathalyzer-like technology that works to identify drug-impaired drivers, on-the-spot, before they cause irreparable harm,” said Schumer. “With the explosive growth of prescription drug abuse it’s vital that local law enforcement have the tools and training they need to identify those driving under the influence of narcotics.”
There have been 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 this past year, 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 his 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.