Traffic accidents involving impaired drivers claimed 10,142 lives in 2020, and preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggest that 2021 was even deadlier. Official figures indicate that drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol are responsible for more than one in four road fatalities in West Virginia and around the country, but most experts feel the true death toll is much higher because accident victims are rarely tested for intoxicating substances other than alcohol.
This greatly worries road safety organizations like the National Governors Association because drug use is becoming alarmingly common on the nation’s roads. According to experts, recreational, prescription and over-the-counter drug use by drivers has surged in recent years due to the legalization of marijuana in several states and the emergence of powerful new synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The problem is particularly serious in West Virginia because the state has the highest overdose death rate in the country.
Intoxicated driving is not nearly as common as it once was, and many experts believe public awareness campaigns that warn about the dangers of getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol deserve much of the credit for reducing drunk driving accidents. According to the NGA, campaigns that focus on the hazards of opioids and other common prescription drugs could have a similar beneficial effect. The nonpartisan group has also called for law enforcement to test for drugs as well as alcohol at fatal accident scenes.
Motorists who ignore the law by operating their vehicles under the influence of intoxicating substances can pay a high price. In addition to facing fines, jail time and the loss of their driving privileges, drunk drivers may be sued in civil court by individuals they injured in motor vehicle accidents or the families of road users they killed.