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Speeches

Remarks to the RADD Office of National Drug Control Policy Ohio Teen DUID Research Summit Columbus, OH
Christopher A. Hart
Columbus, OH
7/11/2014

Thank you, Erin [Meluso], for that kind introduction, and for inviting me here to speak today on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
I also want to thank Michael [Botticelli, Acting Director, ONDCP] for his office's role in co-sponsoring this research summit alongside RADD.
And being from the Safety Board, I'd be remiss not to thank the state of Ohio for the invention of the traffic signal in 1923 – by Ohio's own Garrett Morgan. So thank you, Ohio and Garrett, for helping to make all of our roads safer.
And Erin, one more thanks to RADD for working to make road safety cool. It's great to have entertainers conveying road safety messages, because surprisingly, some young people don't think of government safety officials as meaningful sources of advice.
Let's look at where we are regarding driving while impaired. In 1984, thirty years ago, almost 25,000 people lost their lives due to alcohol-impaired driving. The 1980s were also when public awareness started to pick up about drinking and driving, and legislation and enforcement also started to change.
The bad news is that drinking and driving still takes about 10,000 lives per year. The good news is that's 15,000 fewer than in 1984 – despite a near-doubling of total vehicle miles traveled.
Where will we be thirty years from now, in 2044?
At the NTSB, we investigate accidents, determine what caused them, and make safety recommendations to prevent recurrences.
Most of our recommendations are directed at regulators like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). But often, we make recommendations to the operators of a truck or bus company, or to manufacturers, or state or local agencies, including law enforcement.
The recipients of our recommendations are not required to do what we recommend. But thanks to an amazing staff of investigators and analysts and the exhaustive reports they produce, more than 80% of our recommendations are implemented .
We also hold forums about pressing safety issues. And I cannot think of an issue more pressing than impaired driving.
It's a pressing issue not only because of the 10,000 deaths each year, but also because alcohol-impaired drivers are increasingly driving under the influence of drugs, or DUID. But we are not sure exactly how often. And, we do not know definitively how many crashes are due to other drugs alone.
In May 2012, we held a forum on impaired driving – not just alcohol-impaired driving, but driving impaired by any substance – as a way to bridge gaps in knowledge.
We called the forum "Reaching Zero" to challenge ourselves and the safety community. We know from experience that "Zero" is possible. Remember, there was a time when there may have been multiple fatal airplane crashes in a single month. Now several years may go by without one.
At the forum, we brought together experts from government, the research community, law enforcement, and safety advocacy groups. The results were eye-opening.
Today's panelists may have updates to the research that was presented, so I won't repeat our findings. But if you would like, you can find our forum summary online.
In short, DUID is on the rise, but we know very little about DUID, compared to alcohol-impaired driving. In fact, often there is no testing for drugs once alcohol impairment is established, so we don't have good information about the prevalence of DUID.
To combat the problem, the NTSB is advocating a three-pronged approach of education, legislation, and enforcement. Research is key to all of them.
On the legislative and enforcement fronts here in Ohio, the state continues to adopt strict DUI and DUID laws, including tough per se limits for DUID. In this afternoon's panel you'll hear from Sgt. Wesley Stought, the state Highway Patrol's Drug Recognition Expert coordinator.
If you've ever seen a Buckeyes halftime show, you know about dotting the "I." Sgt. Stought brings that same energy to dotting the "I"s in a legal sense. He'll be speaking two weeks from now at a drugged driving event sponsored by the West Shore Bar Association in partnership with the Rocky River Municipal Court, continuing a dialog between the judiciary and law enforcement.
For our part, because of the recommendations stemming from our Reaching Zero forum, we have included substance-impaired driving on our Most Wanted List of transportation safety improvements. Previously we had included improvements focused on alcohol-impaired driving.
One of the recommendations that came out of the forum was specifically about DUID data. We asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, to develop a common standard of practice for drug toxicology testing, and to disseminate it to the states.
We recommended that it include the circumstances under which tests should be conducted, a minimum set of drugs for which to test, and cutoff values for reporting the results.
We know that NHTSA, together with ONDCP, is working hard on our recommendation, and we look forward to the results of their efforts.
On the education front, RADD and NHTSA, as well as many others, have already played lead roles. We are encouraged by their efforts because we have seen in another context, namely, railroad grade crossing accidents, how effective education can be.
In the early 1970s, more than 12,000 motor vehicles were struck by trains every year at grade crossings, often with fatal results.
Then in 1972, the governor's office in Idaho, the Idaho Peace Officers, and Union Pacific Railroad worked together to launch a six-week awareness campaign called Operation Lifesaver. In the very first year of the campaign, Idaho saw a 43% reduction in grade-crossing fatalities.
Other states adopted the program and also saw dramatic double-digit reductions. By 1986, there was a national non-profit Operation Lifesaver office supporting state efforts.
Today Operation Lifesaver, Incorporated (OLI), offers rail safety education programs nationwide. OLI speaks to school groups, driver education classes, community audiences, professional drivers, law enforcement officers, and emergency responders.
Since the mid-1970s, when the Federal Railroad Administration began keeping national statistics about grade crossing fatalities, the number has decreased by about 75%.
Legislation, enforcement, and education were all necessary to reduce those numbers. But in order to know whether the programs are working, we must have the data.
And we must have the data sooner rather than later because the clock is ticking. In one 2010 survey, one in eight young adults aged 18-25 reported using drugs while driving. Since then, decriminalization and legalization of cannabis - marijuana -- has continued. We are seeing a sea change in attitudes toward the single biggest contributing drug to the drugged-driving problem.
In years past, we focused on the use of drugs other than alcohol as crimes in themselves. Alcohol use, by contrast, was only a crime when coupled with operating a motor vehicle. The need for education about the combination of drugs and driving has moved to center stage.
I know that Jason Demeter is here from SADD, and that he's working to spread the word about DUID to his peers. I know that Marcie's (Seidel's) Ohio Drug-Free Action Alliance is working tirelessly to educate students about DUID as well.
Today, our legislative, enforcement, and education efforts are only beginning to address the problem of drugged driving.
We're in new territory. But as we saw in the Operation Lifesaver example, new territory can be the most fertile ground.
We can reduce the risk on the road, perhaps sharply, starting with our work here today. This research summit, and the work that follows, will help to strengthen our education, legislation, and enforcement efforts in the years ahead.
So on behalf of NTSB, thank you, and best wishes for a productive summit.