State Drug Testing Rates for Drivers Involved in Fatal Traffic Crashes Vary Widely Across the U.S.

BETHESDA, MD, April 7, 2016—The July 2016 issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention features an article coauthored by two CSR staff members that analyzes differences in state drug testing and reporting for drivers involved in fatal traffic crashes. This research was sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The study used data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which compiles information about fatal traffic crashes within the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Dr. Megan E. Slater and Dr. I-Jen P. Castle of CSR, Incorporated, joined Dr. Ralph W. Hingson of NIAAA and Dr. Barry K. Logan of NMS Labs in Willow Grove, PA, in conducting this study. They used the 2013 FARS dataset to present differences in state drug testing rates by driver type, driver fault type, and state-level factors.

The results revealed that drug testing rates varied widely across states and by driver types. State drug testing rates were greatest for drivers who died at the scene of the crash (median = 70.8%) and who died and were at fault in the crash (median = 64.4%). The lowest testing rates were among surviving drivers who were not transported to a hospital (median = 14.0%) and surviving drivers who were not at fault in the crash (median = 10.0%).

In general, states that tested a higher percentage of drivers for BAC had higher drug testing rates. For surviving drivers, states with arrest laws also had higher drug testing rates than the states that lacked such laws.

The article discusses limitations related to analysis and interpretation of drugged driving data in FARS. It also outlines suggestions for improving drug testing rates nationwide through standardization and mandatory testing policies. The article concludes that more efforts are needed to improve U.S. drug testing and reporting practices in traffic crash fatalities. It also recommends further research to establish drug concentration levels at which driving skills become impaired.

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