BISMARCK — The weeks leading up to Christmas are called the most wonderful time of the year, but for those who decide to use drugs or alcohol before getting behind the wheel, it’s a decision that could ruin theirs and other people’s holiday.
“If there’s two things that I think we as a society should be willing to invest in, it’s our children and it’s proven prevention and tools to increase public safety,” said Don Moseman with the North Dakota Safety Council.
But now a larger problem is surfacing, Impaired driving — or driving under the influence of alcohol and another substance.
In fact, a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association finds that despite alcohol-impaired motor vehicle fatalities at their lowest level since 1982, the number of impaired drivers killed in crashes who tested positive for both alcohol and other drugs is up 16 percent nationwide over the last 10 years.
“North Dakota’s not immune to what’s happening across the country, and prescription drugs are being used by people and not understanding that just because I’m taking a pain killer doesn’t mean I can drive with it,” said Moseman
The report recommended a new tactic, fixing the underlying problem causing a person’s poor behavior. In North Dakota, that involves assessing the broader impaired driving prevention system.
“Which does look at assessment, identification of those underlying issues, referral to the appropriate services to address those issues and then monitoring and treatment as well,” said Karin Mongeon with the North Dakota Department of Transportation.
Research done by the Harvard Medical School shows many repeat offenders have a mental health disorder as well as a substance abuse problem. Both groups we spoke with agree that tossing someone in jail will not fix the problem.
“There will be some shock value if that person’s never been in jail before, but how big of a deterrent? It’s going to be based on that person’s background, their history, their personality, there’s so many things that come into play there,” said Moseman.
I would tend to agree with that, just because it’s doesn’t address the underlying issues.”
The report suggested each state reevaluate their program for impaired drivers to see where improvements can be made.
But those improvements will most likely cost money, something safety experts are urging Congress to include more of in the next federal highway bill.
The North Dakota Highway Patrol told KX News so far this year, they’ve made 971 arrests for people driving impaired.
However, information on how many of those were tested for other drugs in their system was not available in time for this report.