Five states — Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, and Nevada — are recent recipients of grants to fund innovative initiatives to enhance the identification and treatment of alcohol- and drug-impaired drivers. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and Responsibility.org teamed up to award the grants, which total $130,000 this year.
The grants come at time when impaired driving is on the rise. Police-reported, alcohol-involved crashes rose 16% from 2019 to 2020 and increased another 5% from 2020 to 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Simultaneously, drug- and multiple substance-impaired driving continues to increase. However, many of these drivers go unreported as police may not have the training to recognize drug impairment and some toxicology labs lack the equipment necessary to test for certain drugs. Ensuring law enforcement has the tools to identify alcohol- and drug-impaired drivers and that expanded testing is made possible are both vital in the effort to improve roadway safety.
The 2022 grants will empower five states to boost their ability to deter and detect impaired drivers. Here is how the recipients plan to use the funds.
Connecticut and Maryland
These two states will create “green labs” where volunteers will be given a controlled dose of cannabis or a combination of cannabis and alcohol. Law enforcement officers will perform a series of sobriety tests with the volunteers to witness the impairing effects of these substances. This training will equip officers to better detect cannabis at the roadside, resulting in more impaired drivers being removed from roadways. Public outreach informing drivers of officers’ ability to detect varying forms of drug-impaired driving will help maximize the positive impact of this initiative.
The Pelican State plans to launch a first-of-its-kind on-call toxicology program that can be a model for other states. The goal is to hire a forensic toxicologist who can provide expert analysis and court testimony on drug-impaired driving cases in areas of the state that currently have limited access or funding challenges. Drug-impaired driving cases are complex, and without the appropriate toxicology support, many cases are pled down or dismissed, putting dangerous drivers back on the road. Louisiana will also buy equipment that will allow their lab to test every impaired driving blood sample submitted for analysis for a wider array of drugs, including inhalants.
The focus of this state’s initiative is on expanding the range of drugs that can be tested by toxicology labs. Specifically, Illinois will broaden its ability to test drivers arrested for impairment by synthetic opioids, which are becoming more widespread across the state.
The Silver State’s project is intended to help realize more effective sentencing decisions for offenders. Specifically, the state will provide training to judges and case managers to use the Computerized Assessment Referral System (CARS). The tool can identify substance use disorders and an array of mental health issues, leading to personalized treatment recommendations and more individualized sentencing decisions for defendants, reducing their chances of reoffending.
The grant program is a long-standing partnership of GHSA and not-for-profit, Responsibility.org. Born eight years ago, the program has provided nearly $1 million to states to combat alcohol- and drug-impaired driving.
Every day, about 32 people in the U.S. die in drunk-driving crashes — that’s one person every 45 minutes. Some 11,654 people lost their lives in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2020 alone, according to NHTSA. Moreover, a 2020 study of U.S. trauma centers found that 56% of drivers involved in serious injury and fatal crashes tested positive for at least one drug.