Eliminating Substance-Impaired Driving: It Takes a Community

By Christopher A. Hart

Chairman Hart with the Rooneys Last week, in Columbus, Ohio, I had the opportunity to shine the spotlight on the problems of alcohol-impaired driving in a press conference, along with an opportunity in a research summit to address the problems of drug-impaired driving.

In the press conference, I expressed the NTSB’s support for Annie’s law, House Bill 469, which strengthens Ohio’s ignition interlock policies. Named for Anna Louise Rooney, the legislation, sponsored by State Representatives Gary Scherer and Terry Johnson, is a positive step toward eliminating alcohol-impaired driving. Certified ignition interlocks are crucial to curbing this public health problem because they force DWI offenders to prove that they are not alcohol-impaired before their cars can start.

During this press conference, I had the opportunity to witness the courage and strength of the Rooney family. Just over a year after losing their daughter, the Rooneys stood before the group and talked about their memories of Annie. I was struck by the stark reality that any one of us could be in a similar position. That’s why advocacy efforts like these are more than just a speech; it’s about helping to save lives, lives that could include you, me, or a loved one.

More than twenty states have enacted legislation that mandates that all DWI offenders have a certified ignition interlock installed in their vehicle. According to one estimate by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, if all drivers who had a prior alcohol-impaired driving conviction within the last three years used a zero-B.A.C interlock ignition, 1,100 lives would have been saved. Research over the last two decades has found that ignition interlocks reduce recidivism among DWI offenders by as much as 62-75 percent. With these facts in mind, the NTSB continues to work towards all fifty states adopting stricter interlock ignition laws. We hope that Annie’s law will motivate other states to take action.

The next day, I spoke at the Ohio Teen DUID Research Summit hosted by RADD and the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The summit brought top academics and government agencies together to discuss how we can address teenage drug-impaired driving. In my remarks, I focused on NTSB’s concerns with DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) and outlined some ways to address the problem.

It will take improvements in three areas: education, legislation, and enforcement. Better education will give drivers, including teenage drivers, a more thorough understanding of the dangers of drug-impaired driving. Stronger legislation is needed to deter all forms of substance-impaired driving, not just alcohol-impaired driving. Improved enforcement will remove offenders from the roadway before they become a danger to themselves or others. According to the 2011 National Survey of Drug Use and Health, one in eight young drivers between the age of 18-25 report using drugs while driving; we can’t wait until drug-impaired driving is as prevalent as alcohol-impaired driving before we take action to end DUID.

My trip to Ohio showed that positive steps can be taken to reach our goal of eliminating substance-impaired driving. Annie’s Law is an excellent example of lawmakers working towards making our roads safer. The NTSB commends Ohio for getting serious about ignition interlocks. I was honored to participate in the Ohio Teen DUID Research Summit and invigorated to see so many experts come together to tackle the problem of teenage DUID.

If we continue to enact strong legislation and come together to exchange ideas, we can reach zero substance-impaired driving deaths sooner rather than later.

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