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Alcohol and Drug-related Vehicle Offenses and Fatalities Increase During COVID Pandemic

COVID-19 has made things harder for a lot of people across the country, and an increase in reckless driving behavior may be related to the virus. 

A recent study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed an alarming uptick in the number of fatalities and severe injuries in accidents where drugs and alcohol are involved. At a glance: 

  • Alcohol use increased by 7% in cases by July 2020, and was found in 28% of cases, compared to just 20% pre-lockdown.
  • In March, alcohol involved injury and fatality cases accounted for 50% of cases, but that significantly increased to 65% in July 2020. 
  • Drivers involved in crashes are using drugs like THC and opiates at a 15% higher rate than pre-lockdown.
  • More drivers are using alcohol in combination with other drugs, like THC. Active THC was more prevalent among drivers during the public health emergency than alcohol (32.7% versus 28.3%), and opioid use among drivers nearly doubled from 7.5% to 13.9%.
  • Data shows significantly higher overall drug prevalence during the public health emergency, with 64.7% testing positive for at least one active drug, compared to 50.8% before for drivers. 

Class/Category Parent Drug or Metabolite Tested in Study

Many states focus their safety programs and efforts far more heavily on alcohol use, but this study did make a point to test many kinds of drugs and categories to see if these are a factor as well. 

All injured or deceased parties involved in a crash were tested for the following intoxicants: 

  • Alcohol
  • Cannabinoids
  • Stimulants
  • Sedatives
  • Opioids/Narcotic Analgesics
  • Antidepressants
  • Over the Counter drugs

Most highway safety initiatives focus on the dangers of alcohol when driving, but it’s clear that those should be broadened to include the dangers of other substances as well. The study shows that those injured or killed had a significantly higher prevalence of alcohol, cannabinoids (active THC), and opioids during the public health emergency compared to before. 

It should also be noted that there was a significant increase of people who tested positive for more than one category of drugs during the public health emergency. Mixing drugs, or mixing drugs with alcohol, can cause unpredictable reactions in people that may negatively impact their driving.

How Ignition Interlock Devices Can Help

The data does suggest that the public health crisis is at least partly responsible for the increase in drug and alcohol use by crash victims, but this doesn’t mean it can be excused. Highway safety programs should continue to focus on both drug and alcohol abuse and how they impact road safety. 

While ignition interlock devices are normally implemented following an offense, they can also be leased by anyone who is concerned about their safety on the road. Discounted rates are available for voluntary users. 

Many people overcoming alcohol addiction choose to have an ignition interlock device installed to help them on their path. Whether they are required to have an IID installed or choose to, it’s proven that IIDs help prevent drunk driving. 

NHTSA Methodology: More Than 3,000 Samples Collected Despite Pandemic

Samples were collected at Level 1 trauma centers and medical examiner’s offices. This was able to continue even during the COVID-19 lockdown, and data was collected and analyzed from 3,003 participants. 

Trauma centers and medical examiners from Charlotte, North Carolina, Jacksonville, Florida, Miami, Florida, Baltimore, Maryland, and Worcester, Massachusetts were selected and data was collected on a rolling basis. The sample used is one of convenience, which just means that it was not possible to collect and gather the same sample size each month from each location, because the ability to do so is dependent on outside factors like accidents. 

The methodology NHTSA used was as follows: 

  • Samples were taken from drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, or other roadway users following a serious or fatal injury in a crash.
  • Those involved were transported to a trauma center or the morgue if they did not survive.
  • Survivors were treated by emergency medical services or physicians depending on their injuries, and blood samples were gathered during normal treatment and procedures. 

Staff members working on the study were also able to gather additional information from accident reports related to the test subjects, which allowed them to link injuries and fatalities to the drug or alcohol use. 

Connect with Intoxalock

If you’re in need of an ignition interlock device or simply want to discuss options, our state specialists can help. Contact Intoxalock or chat with a state specialist today. They’ll help guide you through the process 


Category: Drunk Driving

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