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BENTON, Ark. (BNPD) - The Benton Police Department is continuing its traffic initiative focus for March with a focus on alcohol and drug impaired driving. This initiative, called 'March for Safer Streets', will encompass a two-pronged approach of enforcement efforts geared towards apprehending impaired drivers and an educational effort to help spread the word about the dangers involved.

In 1991, for every 100,000 people in the US there were 6.3 fatalities as a result of alcohol impaired accidents. Looking at 2011 figures, the rate has fallen to 3.2 fatalities per 100,000 as a result of a drunk driving fatal crash. Although the fatality rate has fallen by 50 percent, alcohol impaired driving fatalities still accounted for 31% of the total number of traffic deaths in 2011.

Another alarming trend lately is drugged driving traffic related fatalities. Sometimes people are given a prescription for a medication that can impair their driving ability and judgment, but often don't heed the warnings that come with them about operating a vehicle safely. In a national survey, drugs (prescription and illegal) were present more than 7 times as frequently as alcohol among weekend nighttime drivers in the U.S. with 16% testing positive for drugs, compared to 2% testing at or above the legal limit for alcohol.

Although alcohol remains the most prevalent substance found in fatality crashes, another issue that is on the rise is marijuana impaired fatalities. According to a recent Columbia University study, drugged driving is closing the gap with drunk driving and marijuana was found in 12.2 percent of deceased drivers in 2010, which is up from 4.2 percent in 1999. They found that if the current trend continues, non-alcoholic drugs, such as marijuana, will overtake alcohol in traffic related fatalities by 2020.

Just recently, there were two instances locally of suspected drugged drivers causing accidents, with one resulting in a fatality. One involved suspected methamphetamine usage and the other involved a mix of marijuana and prescription medications as possible contributors. During a recent DWI checkpoint conducted by BNPD, we encountered some drivers who were under the influence of suspected marijuana, but the drivers didn't seem to realize their impairment level or the seriousness of it.

As some of these numbers and information demonstrate, there is a lot of work and education that needs done to help curb traffic fatalities that result from substance use and abuse. It is our goal during the 'March for Safer Streets' initiative that we help educate those in the community we serve by helping spread the word about the dangers associated with impaired driving.

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