Nebraska Sees Rise in Serious Crashes Involving Drugs

December 23, 2015

The number of serious crashes involving drivers who were under the influence of drugs is growing in Nebraska, and officials are concerned about the trend.

The Omaha World-Herald reports 28 Nebraska residents have died this year in crashes where one of the drivers had drugs in his or her system. That’s up from 22 last year, and before that the state averaged about a dozen drug-related traffic deaths.

Increased testing might be part of why drugs are being found in more drivers, but the numbers are clearly up.

Fred Zwonechek with the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety says this is a troubling trend.

“We need the public to recognize these are serious issues,” Zwonechek said.

Law enforcement officials say the legalization of marijuana in Colorado has made the drug more readily available in Nebraska. Marijuana is becoming more prevalent nationwide as well.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration periodically conducts studies in which it randomly stops drivers and tests them for drugs and alcohol. The 2015 study found 8 percent of weekend drivers had alcohol in their systems and just over 1 percent had enough alcohol to exceed the legal limit.

But nearly 13 percent of weekend drivers tested positive for the active substance in marijuana and when all drugs were included, more than 22 percent of drivers tested positive.

With drugs, it’s more difficult to determine how much is needed to impair driving, but the study showed that drivers were 50 percent more likely to test positive for drugs compared to a 2007 study.

“The rising prevalence of marijuana and other drugs is a challenge to everyone who is dedicated to saving lives and reducing crashes,” said Mark Rosekind, administrator of the national transportation safety agency.

And it’s still challenging to detect drivers under the influence of drugs because there isn’t a roadside test available and impairment can be harder to detect.

“The reality is drugged drivers escape detection,” said Peter Odom of the National District Attorneys Association. “We don’t know how big the problem is, but we know it’s big.”

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