Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Prescription 'Drugged Driving' a Growing Problem

As Americans get hooked on more and more prescription drugs, then clamor behind the wheel of their automobiles while dazed or sleepy, more auto accidents can't be far behind.

Turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or go online and you'll find the pharmaceutical industry is making a killing pushing pills. There are pills to wake you up, calm you down, get you excited, lower your blood pressure, ease your hypertension, and get you back to sleep again. While many of these prescription drugs do help with certain ailments, the side effects can be deadly when someone affected by these powerful drugs tries to drive. Many of these drugs cause a reduction in mental alertness and physical responsiveness, both of which are necessary to safely operate a motor vehicle.

An accident caused by a drugged driver.
Unlike drunk driving, which has definitive limits, and can measure blood alcohol levels, drugged driving has no limits to measure. If you're blood alcohol level is .008 or higher, you can be convicted of DUI, but there are no tests to determine improper levels of prescription drugs. There are so many different legal drugs legally prescribed, with each one having a different effect on the user, that it is very difficult to set legal limits. In addition, prescription drugs can linger in the system for days or even weeks, making it hard to determine when it is safe for the patient to return to the road.

How commonplace is driving while drugged? According the the National Highway and Safety Administration's 2007 National Roadside Survey, more than 16 percent of weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription or over-the-counter medication.

Lately more attention has been given to drugs other than alcohol, as law enforcement has begun to recognize the hazards it poses to traffic safety.

What Makes Drugged Driving Hazardous?

Drugs acting on the brain can alter perception, cognition, attention, balance, coordination, reaction time, and other faculties required for safe driving. The effects of specific drugs of abuse differ depending on their mechanisms of action, the amount consumed, the history of the user, and other factors.

Many medications (e.g., benzodiazepines and opiate analgesics) act on systems in the brain that could impair driving ability. In fact, many prescription drugs come with warnings against the operation of machinery -- including motor vehicles -- for a specified period of time after use. When prescription drugs are taken without medical supervision (i.e., when abused), impaired driving and other harmful reactions result.

Enforcement Lacking

Police and Highway Patrol personnel are trained to spot, test and arrest persons under the influence of alcohol, but people affected by prescription drugs are more difficult to prosecute. Breathalyzer tests will only show if the person has been drinking, even though the motorist's ability to drive is clearly compromised. With defense lawyers quick to point out that many of these drivers are taking legal medication, in proper doses that are prescribed by a doctor, police are reluctant to pursue punishment due to the ambiguity of the law.

Canada Gets Tough

Yet some countries are getting tougher. In 2008, Canada passed a drugged driving law which makes it illegal for drivers to drive under the influence of drugs, legal or not.

Prior to this legislation, police were allowed to ask drivers for a urine, blood or saliva sample if they were suspected of being under the influence of drugs. However, officers had to inform drivers that they were not obligated to take the test.

“There was no monitoring in place for us to make this demand at all,” said Toronto Police Sgt. Tim Burrows, “New ground has been broken.”

Under this new legislation, drivers suspected of drug use are taken to traffic services and tested by a specially trained drug recognition expert. The test involves looking at indicators such as pupil size, blood pressure and the ability of the driver to multi-task. The final part of the test is a bodily fluid swab test.

Those caught driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol will face at least a $1,000 fine for a first offense, a minimum of 30 days in jail for a second offense and 120 days in jail if they are caught a third time.

In the U.S., many states are starting to pass 'per se' laws, making it illegal to operate a motor vehicle if there is any detectable level of a prohibited drug, or its metabolites, in the driver's blood. Other state laws define "drugged driving" as driving when a drug "renders the driver incapable of driving safely" or "causes the driver to be impaired."

But, persuading a jury to convict someone of drugged driving is difficult, as it doesn't have the stigma that drunken driving has, thanks to the efforts of groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

"Because most people on the jury will also likely be taking prescription drugs for some ailment," said Douglas Gansler, the attorney general in Maryland, "whether it's Lipitor or allergy pills or whatever it might be, they might think, 'I don't want that to become criminal.'"

Sources: DrugFreeWorkplace.com, The New York Times, National Highway and Safety Administration.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Red Light Cameras Help Reduce Traffic Accidents

As more and more cities install cameras at busy intersections to catch drivers who run red lights, the debate rages as to how effective they are in reducing traffic accidents.

How Do Red Light Cameras Work?

Red light cameras are mounted at selected signalized intersections, and automatically photograph vehicles whose drivers run red lights. A red light camera system is connected to the traffic signal and to sensors that monitor traffic at the crosswalk or stop line. The camera is triggered by any vehicle entering the intersection above a preset minimum speed and following a specified time after the signal has turned red. Many red light camera programs provide motorists with grace periods up to 1/2 second, but it is up to each municipality to determine what grace period, if any, will be allowed. Cameras record the date, time of day, time elapsed since the beginning of the red signal, vehicle speed and license plate. Tickets are typically mailed to the registered owner, based on a review of the photographic evidence.

Effective Accident Reduction

Accident statistics support the contention that these cameras are effective in substantially reducing traffic accidents. Highway Safety Institute evaluations in Fairfax, Virginia and Oxnard, California, showed that camera enforcement reduced red-light-running violations by about 40 percent. In addition, this effectiveness carried over to other signalized intersections not equipped with red light cameras, indicating community-wide changes in driver behavior. An Institute evaluation of red light cameras in Philadelphia found that after red light violations were reduced by 36 percent following increased yellow signal timing, and the addition of red light cameras further reduced red light violations by 96 percent. In the Oxnard, Calif. study, injury crashes were reduced by 29 percent after red light cameras were in operation. Front-into-side collisions -- the crash type most closely associated with red light running -- were reduced by 32 percent overall, and front-to-side crashes resulting in injuries were reduced by 68 percent!

Success Rates of Red Light Cameras

New Orleans, LA -- Red light cameras led to an 85% drop in red light running and speed cameras led to an 84% drop in speeding.
Council Bluffs, IA -- 90% reduction in red light running crashes.
Washington, DC -- Red light running fatalities were reduced from 16 to 2 in the first two years of red light cameras.
Fairfax, VA -- 44% reduction in red light running crashes.
Oxnard, CA -- 22% reduction in red light crashes citywide.
New York City -- 34% reduction in red light violations.

Who is Responsible for the Ticket?

Each state has its own set of rules determining who is responsible for running a red light. 25 states currently have red light camera enforcement, and each has its own set of rules and limitations. In Washington state, which is one of the states that does, it is the registered owner's responsibility, whether or not they were driving the car. A ticket for running a red light can mean up to a $250 maximum fine, but does not go on the violator's driving record. It is treated like a parking ticket.

Red Light Cameras are Popular with the Public

A 2002 nationwide survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and conducted by the Gallup Organization found that 75 percent of drivers favored the use of red light cameras. a 1996 survey by the Insurance Research Council found that the highest support for red light cameras was in large cities, where 83 percent of respondents supported their use. There are opponents of this kind of enforcement, but so far its legality has stood up in court challenges.

References: Insurance Industry for Highway; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Wikipedia; National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Driving Drowsy is as Dangerous as Driving Drunk

Nice summer weather and long days of sunshine mean putting the top down on the convertible and going out for nice long drives. It can also mean taking the family on a car vacation.

But, before venturing out on the road, make sure you've had enough sleep. A recent poll found that 54 percent of Americans say they have driven drowsy at least once in the last year, while one quarter admit to doing so at least once a month. This can have very dangerous consequences.

A National Sleep Foundation survey revealed that a full 37 percent of the drivers they polled had actually fallen asleep at the wheel!

"Most people know the dangers of drinking and driving," says Troy Green of the American Automobile Association. "However, driving drowsy can be just as dangerous as driving drunk."

Like drugs or alcohol, sleepiness slows reaction time, decreases awareness, impairs judgment and increases your risk of an accident. However, it is difficult to attribute crashes to sleepiness because there is no standardized test for drowsiness, like there is for intoxication. This lack of criteria for determining when a driver is too sleepy to drive may be one reason there is little or no police training in identifying drowsiness as a crash factor.

How many highway crashes are attributable to drowsiness?

Since police-reported crash data is unreliable due to the difficulty in detected fatigue or drowsiness, the accident reports tend to minimize the frequency of this. Based on police reports, about one percent of all crashes and about three percent of all fatal crashes are due to the driver falling asleep. The actual percentage is probably much higher, and some experts estimate that there are about 56,000 accidents involving a drowsy driver, and at least 1,500 deaths a year.

What are the warning signs of fatigue?

Failure to remember the last few miles driven; wandering or disconnected thoughts; difficulty focusing, keeping eyes open, keeping head up; drifting from lane; yawning repeatedly; tailgating or missing signs; jerking car back into the lane.

How best to prevent drowsy driving

Get a good night's sleep before heading out on a long car trip; don't drive alone; schedule regular stops; avoid alcohol or medications that impair performance.

Experts also warn that old remedies such as opening a window or turning the music up in the car do not help a drowsy driver maintain alertness. It may temporarily wake them, but will not last more than a minute or two before drowsiness overcomes the mild stimulus.

The best idea when fatigue sets in is to pull over to the side of the road and take a brief (20 to 30 minute) nap, and then drink coffee or a cola drink to provide short-term alertness. Getting there a few minutes later is better than not getting there at all!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

AAA Commends Delaware as it Becomes the 30th State to Prohibit Text Messaging While Driving

AAA is more than half way to the goal!

AAA Commends Delaware as it Becomes the 30th State to Prohibit Text Messaging While Driving
WASHINGTON, July 6 -- Nearly a dozen states have enacted texting while driving bans this year
WASHINGTON, July 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AAA applauds Delaware on becoming the 30th state to outlaw text messaging by all drivers. Governor Jack Markell signed the bill into law today, making Delaware the 11th state in 2010 to ban text messaging while driving. Last September, AAA launched its campaign to pass texting bans in all 50 states.

"By passing a law banning texting while driving, Delaware continues the momentum in statehouses across the country in outlawing this dangerous form of driver distraction," said Robert L. Darbelnet, AAA president and CEO. "In the last two years alone, almost half of all states – 12 in 2009 and 11 this year – have enacted text messaging bans for all drivers. AAA is encouraged by the recent and rapid progress toward our campaign goal of passing texting bans in all 50 states.

"Too many people are being injured and killed in vehicle crashes that are preventable. AAA will continue to educate the public about the mental and physical distraction associated with text messaging while driving and continue to advocate for texting bans in states without such laws."

Delaware's new law also makes it illegal to talk on a handheld cell phone while driving. Delaware joins California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia in permitting drivers to talk on a cell phone only with a hands-free device.

"AAA Mid-Atlantic congratulates the Delaware Legislature and Governor Markell on the passage of this new law to combat distracted driving, and we commend their efforts to improve highway safety in the state of Delaware," said Don Gagnon, AAA Mid-Atlantic president and CEO. "AAA Mid-Atlantic has long advocated for comprehensive distracted driving legislation and this is a major step forward in combating texting and other distracted driving in Delaware."

Legislation to establish or improve an existing ban on text messaging while driving is currently being considered in the following states: California, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

The following states and the District of Columbia now prohibit text messaging by all drivers: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Delaware's law will become effective January 3, 2011. Delaware joins Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming in enacting text messaging bans for all drivers in 2010. The effective dates for those new laws are as follows:


Delaware – January 3, 2011

Georgia – July 1, 2010

Iowa – July 1, 2010; penalties effective July 1, 2011

Kansas – Effective immediately when signed on May 24; warning citations to be issued until January 1, 2011

Kentucky – Effective immediately when signed on April 15; penalties effective January 1, 2011

Massachusetts – October 1, 2010

Michigan – July 1, 2010

Nebraska – July 15, 2010

Vermont – Effective immediately when signed on June 1

Wisconsin – December 1, 2010

Wyoming – July 1, 2010

Read more: http://www.sunherald.com/2010/07/06/2311689_p2/aaa-commends-delaware-as-it-becomes.html#ixzz0swGYnN4G