The traffic slow-downs on I-580 or I-80 this past Saturday only hinted at one of the year's most tragic accidents. Early in the morning, a box truck, driven by Daniel Berk of Foster City, slammed into a line of cars and into the No. 14 tollbooth, killing booth operator Si Si Han. Officers arrested Berk on suspicion of DUI and manslaughter.
We don't yet know the details of Berk's impairment, but we can't assume alcohol impaired his driving. For the first time, recent statistics show more drivers killed in crashes had used drugs than alcohol.
According to a report released earlier this year by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, 43 percent of drivers tested in fatal crashes in 2015 used a legal or illegal drug, compared to 37 percent who tested over the legal limit for alcohol.
More than a third of the drug users tested positive for marijuana and more than nine percent had taken amphetamines.
The opioid epidemic also factors into crash statistics. Columbia University researchers analyzed 20 years worth of fatal car crashes. They found the number of opioids detected in fatal car accidents increased from one percent in 1995 to 7.2 percent in 2015.
In a recent article, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) national president Colleen Sheehey-Church expressed concern about "the rising use of opioids across the nation and the effect these drugs have on the safety of our roadways," she said. "There is no doubt that drugged driving is a serious problem."
Don't take drugs and drive
In California you're guilty of a DUI if an officer finds you driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. However, the State has to show the drug impaired the driver, not that the driver simply ingested the drug. Complicating matters, marijuana takes about four days to clear the body, making testing complicated.
If you drive in California, you give your consent to blood or urine testing to determine drug content. You can choose either a blood or urine test, but you don't have the right to have an attorney present before deciding which test to take. Kern, Los Angeles and Sacramento counties are also experimenting with saliva tests.
As more Americans use and abuse legal and illegal drugs, we run the risk of more injured drivers and more fatalities. More strict impaired driving laws and more immediate, accurate roadside drug testing may help deter some impaired driving, but real improvement won't happen until and unless we look at the root cause of substance abuse.
The "war on drugs" against dealers and users has failed miserably and has cost incredible amounts of money with no significant results. We as a society should think more about using those resources for treatment and diversion rather than locking people up.
Were you involved in a crash with a drunk or drugged driver? Get immediate treatment for your injuries and contact a personal injury lawyer right away for a free consultation.
Photo courtesy of Flickr