Almost half of the deaths are due to drugs; Hawaii police urge motorists to be vigilant

With impaired driving accounting for half of the Big Island’s roadway fatalities in recent years, Hawaii Island police are urging drivers to think twice before driving while impaired.

While most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, many are less aware of the dangers of driving while impaired by drugs. Even a simple drug like a cold medicine or an over-the-counter sleeping pill can impair your ability to drive.

“If you have been using any substance that impairs your ability to think, act or understand, you are impaired and should not be driving,” said Tori Keltner, Hawaii Police Department Traffic Services Manager. If you feel different, you drive differently, it’s very simple. There is no excuse for impaired driving. Make a plan ahead of time to get home safely with a completely sober driver.”

Hawaii police have long partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to remind drivers of the deadly consequences of drug-impaired driving. Nationwide, in 2019, 49% of drivers who died in crashes and were tested for drugs tested positive.

Locally, this percentage mirrors the statistics for the state of Hawaii. Last year, 34 people died in traffic accidents on the island of Hawaii, the most since 2012, when 38 people died in traffic accidents. Of these 34 deaths, impairment is present in half of these deaths, or 17. Drugs were involved in 15 of the 17 impaired deaths last year.

Recent traffic accidents on the island of Hawaii. Photo Courtesy: Hawaii Police Department

The number of drug-related deaths was even higher in 2021, when 26 people died in traffic collisions. Of the 26 traffic fatalities, impairment was a factor in 21, and drugs were involved in 20 of the 21 impaired deaths. In 2020, when Hawai’i Island, like the rest of the country, experienced long-term lockdowns that resulted in lower-than-usual traffic fatalities, devaluation again played a major role, accounting for 12 out of 15 traffic crashes that year.

Hawaii police ask drivers to keep these tips in mind when they plan to hit the road, even if it’s just to run errands around town:

  • If you have been using a harmful substance, such as marijuana, do not drive. Passengers should never ride with an impaired driver. If you think the driver may be injured, do not get in the car.
  • If you have a friend who is going to drive while impaired by drugs, take the keys and arrange to get them home safely. Don’t worry about offending someone – they’ll thank you later. You might just save a life.
  • If possible, use a ride-sharing program.
  • If you see an impaired driver on the road, call the police department’s non-emergency line at (808) 935-3311 or, if it’s an emergency, call 911.
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