Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Heidi, for that kind introduction and for your leadership at NHTSA. Thank you for your seven years of service as a volunteer EMT. You’ve seen the tragic results of unsafe driving firsthand and you know what is at stake on this issue.
I also want to thank all of other speakers today: my good friend Secretary Chao, Acting Director Carroll, Dr. Fowler, and Dr. Kearns.
On behalf of President Trump I want to give a special thank you to the law officers who are here today.
- Sherriff Jim DeWees of Carroll County, Maryland
- Sheriff Jeff Gahler of Harford County, Maryland
- Chief Howard Hall of Roanoke County Police
- Corporal Roy Bryant of the Delaware State Police
- Corporal Joey Koher of the Huntington, West Virginia Police
- Colonel Jerry Jones of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police
- Officer Frank Enko of Baltimore County Police
- Officer Jamye Derbyshire of the Montgomery County Police and
- Lieutenant Tom Woodward of the Maryland State Police.
Thank you all for your service.
Thank you to NHTSA for your successful efforts over many years to raise awareness about impaired driving, including investing $14 million in television, radio, and digital advertising. This campaign will save lives.
It is especially important that we get the word out about this because currently there is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding out there. Some even seem to suggest that marijuana and other drugs do not pose accident risks.
In recent years, a number of states have repealed their prohibitions on marijuana use. As a result, too many people think that marijuana is legal and that it is even legal to drive under the influence of marijuana.
That’s wrong. Federal law has not changed and drugged driving laws have not changed.
Drugged driving is illegal on every inch of American soil. People need to understand that.
There is another common myth out there, as well: that marijuana doesn’t impair driving.
That’s also wrong. Marijuana use slows reaction time and inhibits motor coordination and decision-making abilities. That makes driving much more dangerous.
The bottom line is this: if you’re driving under the influence of drugs, including marijuana, then you’re risking your life—and the life of everyone else on the road.
One European study found that drivers high on marijuana were twice as likely to be responsible for a fatal crash as a sober driver.
Here in this country, the Governors Highway Safety Association put out a report back in May that says that—of those who are tested for drugs or alcohol—more drivers killed in car accidents last year tested positive for drugs than for alcohol. And by far the most common drug was marijuana, not opioids. Nearly a quarter of all drivers killed in car accidents who were tested had marijuana in their system—twice as many as tested positive for opioids.
In recent years, it has been getting worse. According to last year’s version of the report, the number of drivers killed in car accidents who tested positive for marijuana increased by nearly one-fifth from 2006 to 2016.
According to the Denver Post, the number of drivers killed in car accidents in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana doubled from 2013 to 2016.
And so, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died of drug overdoses in recent years, another several thousand have died because of drug-impaired driving—either their own or that of someone else.
The victims include Daniel Reyes, who was on his way to the store to buy a movie for his sons, ages five and two. He was killed instantly on his motorcycle by a driver who was high on marijuana. Because that driver got high that day, an innocent man is dead and those little boys have to grow up without a dad.
The victims also include 16-year old Chad Britton, of Broomfield, Colorado. He was at school, getting his lunch bag out of his car, when another student—high on marijuana—struck him and killed him. Chad had his whole life ahead of him—but it was taken away in an instant.
In 1972, more than 54,000 Americans died in car accidents. Thanks to safer vehicles, safer highway barriers and construction, and smarter policing, that number steadily fell for nearly 40 years. By 2011, it had fallen by 60 percent per capita. It was an amazing accomplishment—and no doubt NHTSA deserves a large part of the credit. Tens of thousands of lives were saved over the years by these improvements.
But in 2011, motor vehicle deaths started rising again. Last year, more than 37,000 Americans were killed in car accidents—an increase of 11 percent per capita since 2011.
While there are many factors involved in the safety of our drivers, there can be no doubt that rising drug abuse is one factor.
According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, the percentage of fatally injured drivers who tested positive for drugs increased from 27.8 percent in 2006 to 43.6 percent in 2016. The number of known drug-positive drivers increased from about 4,000 in 2006 to more than 5,300 in 2016—an increase of one-third.
But in the midst of our historic drug crisis, the Trump administration has taken strong steps to take on the opioid epidemic and to prosecute drug traffickers.
Since January 2017, we have charged more than 200 doctors and another 220 other medical personnel for illegally prescribing opioids. Sixteen of those doctors prescribed more than 20.3 million pills illegally. Our highest priorities are to focus on deadly opioids, especially the killer drug fentanyl.
Let me say, our anti-drug efforts are already making an impact in a number of areas. Reducing the illegal, unwarranted and unwise prescribing of opioids will help reduce addiction and help prevent drugged driving, thus making our streets safer.
According to the National Prescription Audit, over the past year we reduced opioid prescriptions by 11 percent. That's in addition to a 7 percent decline in 2017.
And while 2017 saw a continuing rise in overdose deaths from 2016, the most recent data show a possible leveling off of overdose deaths. Our goal is to reduce addictions, overdoses and overdose deaths—not to preside over ever-increasing deaths.
Of course, we have a lot of work left to do, but we are beginning to see progress. And we are continuing to step up our aggressive efforts.
NHTSA is doing its part. I want to thank NHTSA for all that you are doing to highlight this issue. Thank you also for your hard work with the International Association of Chiefs of Police to deploy drug recognition experts. These trained law officers help us identify evidence of drug abuse—and that evidence can be helpful to us in court and in reversing the upward accident trends.
Each one of you can be sure that the Department of Justice is doing its part—and that our shared work is going to save lives.