WASHINGTON – About 1 in 5 drivers who were killed last year in car crashes tested positive for drugs, raising concerns about the impact of drugs on auto safety, the government reported Tuesday.
Researchers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the new data underscored a growing problem of people driving with drugs in their systems. But they cautioned that it was not clear that drugs caused the crashes and more research was needed to determine how certain drugs can hinder a person's ability to drive safely.
Drugs were reported in nearly 4,000 drivers who were killed in 2009, or 18 percent of the nearly 22,000 drivers killed last year. In 2005, drugs were found in the systems of 13 percent of the more than 27,000 drivers killed in car accidents.
Researchers said the numbers could be higher because only about 3 in 5 drivers who were killed in car crashes were tested for drugs after the crash and testing varied from state to state. Among all the drivers who were killed in 2009 and later tested by authorities for drugs, about one-third had drugs in their systems.
"Drugged driving is as inexcusable as drunk driving or driving irresponsibly," said NHTSA administrator David Strickland.
Researchers are just beginning to understand the problem. Strickland said the data did not allow them to know whether the influence of drugs caused the fatal crashes. He said testing procedures were evolving and many states and communities test for different drugs or use different types of tests.
The tests took into account both legal and illegal drugs, including heroin, methadone, morphine, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, LSD, prescription drugs and inhalants. The amount of time the drug could linger in the body varied by drug type, the researchers said, so it was unclear when the drivers had used the drugs prior to the fatal crashes.
Aspirin, nicotine, alcohol and drugs administered after the crash were excluded from the tests.
White House Drug Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske said the research was a "good first attempt" to understand the role that drug use plays in automobile fatalities.
Many drugs can affect a driver's judgment and reaction time but researchers are still trying to determine the level of drug use that can impair a driver's ability to drive safely. A blood alcohol level of 0.08 is the legal limit for all 50 states but a similar level of impairment is uncertain for many drugs.
"It's very clear that we've got a significant problem," Kerlikowske said. "We've made great progress on alcohol-impaired driving through education and enforcement. There's just no reason we won't be able to make progress in this area once we start bringing it to people's attention and we start doing the enforcement that's needed."
Some recent high-profile crashes have involved drug use by drivers.
In July 2009, a New York mother sped the wrong way for more than a mile with a minivan full of children, leading to a crash that killed her and seven others. The woman had a blood-alcohol level 2 1/2 times the legal limit and had smoked marijuana within an hour of the crash.
In Phoenix, the driver of a dump truck struck a group of motorcycle riders in March, killing four people and injuring five others. Initial tests found the driver had methamphetamine in his system.
Kerlikowske said efforts against drugged driving could be helped by improved testing procedures and standards for detecting drug use by drivers, along with more police officers trained to detect drug use by motorists.
Office of National Drug Control Policy: http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/
National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: http://www.theantidrug.com/
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: http://www.nhtsa.gov/
LONDON (AFP) – Europe's largest regional airline Flybe announced on Tuesday plans to float on the London Stock market to help fuel its expansion.
The British low-cost carrier, which flies across Europe on planes carrying about 100 passengers, said it would seek to raise 60 million pounds (72 million euros, 93 million dollars) from an initial public offering in December.
"We are delighted to bring Flybe to the market," its chief executive Jim French said in a company statement.
"A listing will assist Flybe in achieving the next stage in its exciting strategy for growth," he added.
British Airways, which on Monday sealed a multi-billion-euro merger with Spanish rival Iberia, owns 15 percent of Flybe.
BA said that it aims to buy enough of the new shares to maintain its holding.
"We are committed to supporting Flybe in its listing and capital raising, and wish Jim and the team every success as a public company," said BA chief executive Willie Walsh.
DETROIT (Reuters) – General Motors Co said on Tuesday it would hire 1,000 engineers and researchers in Michigan over the next two years to develop more electric cars and hybrids as it launched its battery-powered Chevrolet Volt.
"Volt clearly demonstrates that we are well on our way and it is especially true when it comes to the electrification of the automobile," GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson said at a ceremony marking the start of production of the plug-in hybrid.
The Volt, which tops the Toyota Prius for fuel economy, is a first-of-its-kind vehicle that GM has touted as a symbol of its commitment to pushing for gains in fuel efficiency and developing new technology.
Akerson drove on stage in the first commercially made Volt at the ceremony to mark the start of the car's production, three years after the automaker announced the closely watched project.
Akerson said GM wanted to be in the forefront of new vehicle technology -- starting with the development of powerful battery packs and electric motors -- that promises to reduce oil consumption.
The Volt is designed to run for 35 miles on a full charge of its 400-pound lithium-ion battery pack supplied by a unit of Korea's LG Chem.
After that, the car is powered by a 1.4-liter engine that gives drivers an estimated 379 miles of driving range.
Some critics had questioned whether the Volt would survive GM's restructuring in bankruptcy in 2009 because of its high cost and the low profit margin on the first shipments of the $41,000 car.
GM North American chief Mark Reuss compared the development of the Volt to a NASA "moon shot." He said the effort, including over $700 million in new investment, had "created the new soul of GM."
GM will begin shipping the Volt in limited numbers in December. The automaker plans to expand shipments of the Volt to more markets in 2011 and will also start to export the vehicle, Akerson said.
The Volt, which has won honors as Motor Trend Car of the Year and Green Car of the Year, is the first in a number of electric or partly electric cars to arrive over the next two years.
The growing segment also includes the all-electric Nissan Motor Co Leaf and upcoming rechargeable cars from Toyota Motor Corp and Ford Motor Co.
GM introduced a concept version of the Volt at the Detroit auto show in 2007 and started production this month at a plant that straddles Detroit and the city of Hamtramck, Michigan.
The automaker started development work on the vehicle that would become the Volt in 2006 at the urging of then product development chief Bob Lutz.
The event to mark the start of Volt production is the first major event for GM since its record-setting $23 billion initial public offering of shares earlier this month.
(Reporting by David Bailey and Bernie Woodall; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)