Growing number of deadly car crashes linked to drug use

ROANOKE, Va. – Drugged driving is becoming more prevalent, according to a new study by the Governor's Highway Safety Association. 

The study shows an increasing number of drivers involved in fatal crashes are testing positive for drugs -- that can mean anything from opioids to marijuana. The safety association cautions that it is still unclear whether drug use is the ultimate cause of those crashes. Still, it's a cause for concern during a nationwide opioid epidemic. 

"We need to get that education out there that if you are taking pills, if you are abusing marijuana or any other drug, not to be driving. It's just as dangerous as it is driving under the influence of alcohol," said Kevin Slough, special operations commander for the Roanoke County Police Department.

A total of 44 percent of drivers fatally injured in a crash tested positive for drugs in 2016, up from 28 percent a decade earlier -- and those statistics aren't shocking for officers in the Roanoke Valley. 

"We have seen an increase in people who are intoxicated under drugs and it's not just alcohol anymore," said Slough.

In 2017, the Roanoke Valley DUI Task Force arrested 64 people on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs. Already in 2018, officers have arrested 28 people. The task force has three drug recognition experts who are trained to screen drivers for drug use. Slough said that has been a big help in keeping the roads safe, but he said there is still a ways to go to stop drugged driving, and Nancy Hans, with the Prevention Council, agrees.

"I think it's awareness. It's getting out the same kinds of awareness and messages that we've done for a very, very long time with alcohol," said Nancy Hans, executive director of the Prevention Council of Roanoke County. 

To read more about the study, click here.