Sobering statistics on crashes

Although summer hasn’t yet officially arrived — that occurs on June 21 — the summer travel season already is well underway.

At this time of the year, drivers are accustomed to hearing the plea “drive safely and defensively.”

Of course, that reminder is appropriate every day of the year.

But information contained in a June 1 Wall Street Journal article adds additional urgency to the message about staying alert during summertime driving.

Here’s the main point of the article, which deals with a report from the national Governors Highway Safety Association:

Forty-four percent of car drivers killed in crashes in 2016, and who were tested, had positive results for drugs, up from 28 percent in 2006.

Also according to the report, more than half of all positive-testing deceased drivers in 2016 had marijuana, opioids or both types of drugs in their bodies.

“In 2016, about 20 percent of the drug-positive drivers were positive for some opioid, compared with 17 percent in 2006,” the article says. “In 2016, 41 percent of the drug-positive fatally injured drivers were positive for marijuana, compared with 35 percent in 2006.”

The author of the study report, Jim Hedlund, a traffic-safety consultant and former official with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, admits that just because a drug was determined to have been present doesn’t necessarily mean that it impaired the driver or caused the crash.

But noting laboratory studies showing that marijuana and opioids can negatively affect depth perception, reaction time and other factors related to driving, Hedlund made the important point that “having these drugs in your body can’t be a good thing and might be a bad thing.”

That message takes on additional relevance during the summer months, when traffic volumes are higher and more “tightly packed” travel conditions often exist.

The NHTSA is striving to reach more drivers with the important message that traffic-related fatalities in this country during 2017 are believed to have surpassed 37,000 for the second year in a row.

Not all of those deaths involved drug-impaired drivers, but the report points out that nearly half of all fatally injured drivers in 2016 weren’t tested for drugs, meaning that the drugged-driving statistics could be much worse than the governors’ report indicates.

Moreover, the report notes that testing rates of deceased drivers vary widely across the country.

The report rightly urges that states increase their reminders about the dangers of drug-impaired driving.

As Hedlund pointed out, the public understands the dangers of drunken driving, but awareness lags in regard to the perils posed by drivers who have used illegal drugs.

Every person who gets behind the wheel of his or her vehicle this summer should harbor concern regarding the driving condition of every other motorist he or she encounters.

The drugged-driving numbers tied to fatalities suggest that most motorists at some time will have to react to a questionable maneuver or driving error by someone impaired by illegal substances in his or her system.

Don’t relax your guard at summer’s end, either.