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August 2011 


Medical Marijuana Use Linked to Fatal Road Accidents

Filed under Health & Wellness, Substance Abuse by VirtualTest |


The legalization of the use of marijuana for medical purposes has led to an increase in pot use - this time, however, with a sense of legality to it, although federal law still considers any kind of marijuana use illegal.


While the purpose of medical marijuana is essentially to serve as an alternative treatment for patients seeking relief from pain and other symptoms associated with chronic illnesses, it could not be dissociated fully from its "other use" as a recreational drug.


A feature on the Los Angeles Times shared a statement from former Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske, White House director of National Drug Control Policy, who said: "Marijuana is a significant and important contributing factor in a growing number of fatal accidents... There is no question, not only from the data but from what I have heard in my career as a law enforcement officer."


Kerlikowske's comment was made in relation to a recent assessment released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which indicated that 16.3 percent of night drivers across the country have various legal and illegal impairing drugs in their system. Of this number, half are said to be high on pot.


The fact that a third of the states in the country have legalized the use of medical marijuana has prompted the conduct of scientific research into the impairing effects of medical marijuana. Another issue is that there is no national standard regarding the amount of drug that drivers ought to have in their blood.


Jeffrey P. Michael, impaired-driving director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said: "A lot of effort has gone into the study of drugged driving and marijuana, because that is the most prevalent drug, but we are not nearly to the point where we are with alcohol. We don't know what level of marijuana impairs a driver."


One impaired-driving fatality every 48 min

MATTESON, Ill., July 3 (UPI) -- Almost 11,000 people died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes in 2009 -- nearly 32 percent of all U.S. traffic-related fatalities, officials say.  


"That's an average of one impaired-driving fatality every 48 minutes in 2009," Michael Witter, Midwest Regional administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says in a statement.


"The rate of alcohol impairment among drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2009 was four times higher at night than during the day."


Statistics gathered from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over the past 25 years show that, on average, nearly half of all deadly traffic crashes over each year's Fourth of July holiday involved some level of alcohol, Witter says.


"In fact, 410 people were killed in motor vehicle traffic crashes nationally during the Fourth of July weekend in 2009. Of that number, 40 percent involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher," Witter says.


"Too many people still don't comprehend that alcohol, drugs and driving just don't mix. Impaired driving is no accident -- nor is it a victimless crime."


2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Driving While High A Still-Hazy Issue
A growing number of marijuana users cause accidents on the road, but research and enforcement consensus remains thin. 

By Ben Johnson|  


Driving while under the influence isn't just for drunks anymore.


There's a largely unrecognized group causing a growing number of accidents - minor and fatal - across the country: drugged drivers. And many of them may be causing accidents with their use of pot.


New data from the National Highway Traffic Safety administration says legal and illegal drugs are impairing 16 percent of nighttime drivers nationwide, and half of those are using marijuana, according to the LA Times.


"Marijuana is a significant and important contributing factor in a growing number of fatal accidents," White House director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske told the Times. "There is no question, not only from the data but from what I have heard in my career as a law enforcement officer."


In California law enforcement points to relaxed marijuana laws and fast-growing use of medical marijuana. But even as legal use in other states rises - Connecticut became the most recent to decriminalize smaller amounts in June - many have yet to develop coherent enforcement directives about driving while under the influence of pot.


Zero-tolerance rules exist in 13 States, but most others, including California, rely merely on law enforcement's general guidelines for determining impairment, reportedly making convictions more difficult to obtain.


Part of the problem with establishing a metric for unacceptable levels of the drug in drivers resides in a lack of relative consensus about the drug's impact, and how long it may or may not last.


"To have a law that says above a certain level you are impaired is not scientifically supportable," toxicologist Sarah Kerrigan told the Times. "I don't think police need the tool, but my opinion may be in the minority."


While the drug can remain in a user's system for weeks, many say that its effects are gone in a matter of hours. And while studies of alcohol use and impairment have been conducted for decades, there has been far less research of marijuana impairment. With the growing debate on - and number of - marijuana users on the road however, a healthy crop of studies on that very topic is expected.


Health Dept. gives helpful tips for parents with teen drivers

Submitted by Sophia Sofferman, WNYT Web Producer


Montgomery County Public Health is reminding parents of teenage drivers with some helpful tips to keep your child safe on the road.


Did you know that more teens are killed each year by car crashes than any other cause of death? In the last 10 years 68,000 teens have died in motor vehicle accidents according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).


As parents, we want to teach our teens to become safe drivers, and to drive responsibly.

Here are some Safe Driving Tips to help keep your teenager safe on the road issued by Montgomery County Public Health:

  • Know your teen - not all teens are ready to drive at the same age.
  • Be a responsible role model - parents' driving behavior directly influences the driving actions of their teens. Insist on seatbelts all the time.
  • Don't rely solely on driver education - high school driver education may be the most convenient way to learn skills but it doesn't necessarily produce safer drivers.
  • Practice makes better teen drivers - supervised driving sessions with parents provide teens with opportunities to enhance learning, reinforce proper driving techniques and skills, and receive constructive feedback from the people who care most about their safety and success.
  • Restrict passengers - teen passengers can distract a beginning driver and/or lead to greater risk-taking. Teen drivers' chances of crashing increase with each additional teen passenger.
  • Teens need sleep - teens need about nine hours of sleep every night. Lack of sleep affects vision, hand-eye coordination, reaction time and judgment.
  • Eliminate distractions - Cell phones and text messaging are hazardous distractions for teen drivers.
  • Create a contract - A parent-teen driving agreement with rules, conditions, restrictions and consequences of teens' driving written down in advance establishes driving as a privilege, and not something to be taken lightly. Proper driving behavior should be encouraged and rewarded with additional liberties.
  • Discuss and review - parental involvement and communication is critical in the prevention of teen-related crashes. Designate a time each week to address concerns (both parent and teen) and review the teen's driving performance.
  • Prohibit drinking - Make it clear that it's illegal and highly dangerous for a teenager to drink alcohol.
  • Choose vehicles for safety, not looks - teenagers should drive vehicles that reduce their chances of a crash and offer protection in case they do crash.

For more information of Teen Driving Safety, contact Montgomery County Public Health @ 853-3531 or visit the NHTSA website @


Cell phones to blame for 25% of US car crashes

Posted by Cat Cain in Technology


A new study has concluded that cell phones are the main driving distractions, causing 25% of the car crashes registered in the United States. The report was released on Thursday, according to Reuters.


The new research was led by the Governors Safety Association (GHSA). The non profit organization has gathered study materials from more than 350 published scientific work , which they have been gathering starting from the year 2000. The conclusions were that the drivers are distracted while driving ( by phones and other things) about 50% of the time they spend behind the wheel. The effects range from minor damage to complete damage and deaths. One of the primary distractions of the drivers are the cell phones. Using a cell phone could mean talking on the phone, but also writing messages. The study showed that texting leads to many more crashes that talking on the cell phone.


According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2009 about 16% of the traffic fatalities have been reported as due to distracted driving. This is 6% more than four years earlier, in 2005, when only 10% of the crashes were because of distracted driving. Lynda Tran, the spokesman for NHTSA stated that "any activities that take extend focus away from the primary task of driving are both unsafe and unwise".


Even though the government has taken measures by allowing drivers to use only hands-free cells in the car, there is no evidence that the measure is efficient. GHSA suggested a complete ban of using the phone while driving: no talking on the phone, no hands-free, no texting. 


Mature motorists pose dilemmas and opportunities

Senior population needs mobility options


Capital Gazette Communications

Getting around later in life

  • The county Department of Aging and Disabilities provides a van service at 410-222-4826 that requires a two-day notice for reservations. The agency also sells vouchers that can be used for a reduced fare at participating taxicab companies. The voucher program can be reached at 410-222-4464.
  • Partners in Care has about 300 volunteers who drive seniors around the region. Call 410-544-4800.
  • The AARP provides an online driver safety course that teaches defensive driving. The program is available at
  • The AARP's website also provides guidelines for caregivers who have to talk to an older adult about giving up driving. Visit

The 77-year-old is legally blind and depends on public transportation and a volunteer organization to take her to doctors' appointments and shopping trips. On weekends, friends take her to social gatherings and church. The Glen Burnie resident's creative traveling solutions are a reflection of life beyond the steering wheel, a situation that many seniors try to avoid as long as possible.


But as the population continues to age, and more people become wheel-free, experts are encouraging officials to find ways to meet seniors' needs, particularly regarding mobility.

"I do miss the freedom (of driving) and being able to go when I want to go," Palmer said, though she quickly added that she has gotten used to her alternative means of transport. "I go everywhere I want to go. I go to the store myself. They can't believe all the things I do myself. I'm very independent."


In 2000, Maryland had nearly 600,000 residents aged 65 and older, a figure that is expected to reach more than 1.2 million by 2030. The AARP projects that one in every five drivers will be 65 or older by 2025.


Studies have shown that this group drives less and is also increasingly turning to public transportation and walking to get around.


But studies also show that those who cling to their keys are more likely to cause an accident than younger adults and are much more vulnerable to fatal injury.


Yet there are many older drivers who thrive on the road. For example, Meals on Wheels had a 90-year-old volunteer who drove for the organization until her death.


Experts on seniors said the issue is not whether they can drive, but whether changes can be made so that they are able to do so successfully. Roadways are not illuminated well enough for older eyes and cars are designed for a younger buying public that can enter and exit them easily, said Judah Ronch, dean of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's Erickson School of Aging.


Still, that doesn't mean giving up the car keys is easy for seniors.


"We're an automobile culture and automobiles provide the independence that we value so much as a society," said Ronch, an Edgewater resident. "Now you're getting the boomers who are starting to grow older, and we were the first to get a car when we were teenagers. (Driving) is very central to our identity as adults."


Look for the signs

A study by the Rand Institute for Civil Justice found older drivers are 16 percent likelier than motorists aged 25 to 64 to cause an accident. Still, they pose less risk than drivers younger than 25, who are 188 percent more likely to cause a crash.


Giving up one's keys is often the result of the not-so-gentle prodding of a concerned relative rather than state officials.


Maryland does not have any specific requirements for senior citizen drivers, other than the vision test that is required at each renewal period for motorists once they reach 40.


The AARP warns caregivers to look out for signs that it may be time for an older adult to stop driving - getting distracted while driving, hitting curbs, having trouble merging lanes and difficulty making left turns, for instance.


Officials said caregivers should also talk to a doctor about whether someone should give up driving, and then consider providing other transportation solutions for seniors whose diving skills are fading.


"We do not want the older adult to feel like they're housebound at all," said Sarah Shepard-Kneip, communication program specialist for AARP. "Just be supportive. We all know the transition of being driver to passenger is not always easy or smooth. The more understanding (you are) the better."


Seniors cannot adopt to every form of transportation, Ronch said. Buses are challenging because routes maybe long and the stops do not always come with shelters for protection against bad weather. Walking is not ideal either because it makes older adults vulnerable to crime and it takes them twice as long to cross the street as younger people.


Providing options

The county Department of Aging and Disabilities has two different services available for seniors. The agency provides 700 trips daily to 4,200 seniors who call for rides to hospitals in the Baltimore area and to run personal errands. The service is free, but requires a two-day notice.


The department also offers a taxi voucher program to 1,700 people. Participating taxi companies offer a lower-cost ride to seniors who submit a voucher that has been purchased from the department, spokeswoman Mary Felter said.


Pasadena-based Partners in Care provides services designed to help older adults remain independent.


The volunteer organization is made up of roughly 2,400 seniors who pool their resources to help other members. Roughly 300 members volunteer to drive seniors around the area to get to their doctors' appointments and other activities. Travel goes from around the county and surrounding region; riders pay on a sliding scale.


"There are people who often volunteer with us and, at some point, they're no longer able to drive and at that point they request service," said Linda Figallo, the organization's transportation coordinator. "It's lifelong for people who can no longer drive. They rely on us to get them to their appointments. It's often people who really don't have a support system - no family in the area - so they really rely on us."


Not every aging driver has to give up life on the road.


Meals on Wheels utilizes senior drivers like Annapolis resident John Dirks. At 73, Dirks has been driving for the organization for 15 years. Twice a week, he delivers meals to Crofton and Davidsonville or goes to different locations to pack the food for delivery. He has taken the AARP defensive driving course and feels he's a safe driver. If he had his keys taken away, Dirks knows he can rely on Heritage Harbour's van service that takes residents around town.


The mobility issue for many seniors are health problems, he said.


"The limiting factor is probably not driving; the limiting factor will probably be health issues of some kind," Dirks said. "We have people driving who are in their 80s and they do fine, until they have a heart attack or something. Usually, it's some sort of illness or sickness that stops someone" from driving.


Getting around

In Glen Burnie, Partners in Care arranges for volunteer Judy Litke to take Palmer to a nearby appointment with a doctor. This is Palmer's preferred mode of transportation, since the volunteers take her to her destination and wait for her task to be completed instead of just dropping her off.


Litke, 61, also a Glen Burnie resident, began working with the organization after she retired six years ago. She arranges her driving schedule around her other activities. She took some time off last year for a knee replacement, but depended on her friends to get around instead of using another Partners in Care driving volunteer.


During a recent drive, Palmer talked about growing up outside Washington, D.C., and working as a budget analyst until a car accident forced her to retire. She continued to drive until her eyesight worsened to the point that she couldn't make out faces.


She stopped driving eight years ago and has made her way around the county with the help of friends, roommates, volunteers and other services. A doctor suggested she should move into an assisted living facility, but she wouldn't go.


"I told you I'm very independent," Palmer tells Litke when she reaches to pick up an object for her. "I'm not one of these older people that likes everybody waiting on them."


Palmer uses a walker, but most of Litke's clients need more help getting around. Many of them don't drive because they can't afford a car, but she still comes across those who have a car and can no longer drive.


"I pray to God I have the good common sense to stop driving when my driving is not up to par," Litke said. "A lot of the baby boomers are doing the (volunteer) driving. I'm not sure what the generation behind us will be doing. I hope they'll want to volunteer also."


State Seatbelt Compliance at All-Time High 

By WBNG News


Albany, N.Y. (WBNG BInghamton) -- New Yorkers are bucking up at a record rate.


That's according to Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner and Chair of the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee Barbara J. Fiala, who on Thursday announced that the seat belt compliance rate for New York has reached an all-time high.  


This year's statewide usage rate increased from 90 percent in 2010 to 91 percent for 2011.


The statewide survey for this year, which was conducted by the University at Albany's Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research, shows an increase in seat belt use on New York State roadways when compared to 88 percent and 90 percent usage rates in 2009 and 2010, respectively.  


The New York State Seat Belt Observation Survey was conducted at 200 individual locations in 20 counties where drivers and front-seat passengers were monitored for seat belt compliance. The June 2011 survey used the same methodology as previous surveys and was funded by the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee.


"This rate of compliance is very gratifying and shows that drivers in New York State are moving in the right direction to make our roadways safer," said Fiala. "We will not be satisfied, however, until all drivers realize that seat belt use is the single most effective way to prevent deaths and injuries in motor vehicle crashes."


New York State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D'Amico said, "Since the introduction of seat belt laws in New York in 1984, through the 'Buckle-Up New York' efforts starting in 1999, and the most recent 'Click-it or Ticket' campaigns, the State Police has been a staunch proponent of seat belt education and enforcement. New York's tough laws targeting seat belt violators, and impaired and aggressive drivers, combined with strict enforcement, has made New York one of the safest states in the nation in which to drive. The reported 91 percent seat belt compliance rate shows that the vast majority of New Yorkers are doing their part to maintain this safe reputation by continuing to 'buckle-up for safety' when on the road."

John Grebert, the Executive Director of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, said, "The exciting news of New York's seat belt compliance rate reaching an all-time high of 91 percent will be met with a great deal of pride and interest by Chiefs and law enforcement executives across the state. The partnerships, public education, and high visibility enforcement efforts have all played a major role in this recipe for success. I'm confident that law enforcement's ongoing efforts in this 'cornerstone' of the traffic safety program will continue, day and night."  


"The combination of zero tolerance high visibility enforcement and creative public information programs has resulted in a 91 percent seatbelt compliance rate for New York State," said Jack Mahar, President of the New York State Sheriffs' Association. "This is exceptionally good news as we are all aware that seatbelts, when properly worn, greatly reduce crash severity. New York continues to be a leader in the traffic safety field and will build on this accomplishment for even higher usage rates in the future."


The Department of Motor Vehicles and Governor's Traffic Safety Committee, along with law enforcement agencies across the state, conduct seat belt use campaigns each year to remind New Yorkers that buckling up saves lives. The most recent "Buckle Up New York - Click It or Ticket" enforcement effort was conducted from May 23 through June 5. The GTSC and its partners also conduct public education campaigns to enhance awareness of the importance of buckling up.


New York State's occupant restraint law was enacted in 1984 and enforcement began in January of 1985. New York is a primary enforcement state, which means a law enforcement officer can stop a vehicle and issue a traffic ticket for failure to wear a seat belt without observing another violation. Failure to wear a seat belt carries a fine of up to $50.

CHP offers free teen traffic safety program
Written by Elizabeth Larson   

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. - The Clear Lake Area California Highway Patrol office will offer several, free, Start Smart traffic safety classes for teenage drivers and their parents.

The classes will run approximately two hours and will be offered on Aug. 15 and Sept. 12 starting at 6:30 p.m. at the CHP office in Kelseyville.

Traffic collisions are the No. 1 killer of teenagers in America.

Nationally about 5,000 teens will die in automobile crashes.

About 10 percent of those deaths are in California alone. In California in 2007, there were 82,506 collisions involving teenage drivers statewide, 457 resulted in fatalities.

The program aims to help future and newly-licensed teenage drivers learn the responsibilities that accompany the privilege of being a licensed driver.

It is an educational tool for parents and teens to reduce the number of teen injuries and deaths resulting from traffic collisions.

The program provides information on defensive driving, state traffic laws, dynamics of traffic collisions, tips on avoiding collisions and DUI awareness.

Space is limited for this class.

For more information or reservations, call Officer Kory Reynolds at the CHP office 707-279-0103.

Traffic stop exposes multimillion dollar mail scam

By Byron Chu, QMI Agency


VANCOUVER - A routine police traffic stop has exposed a multimillion-dollar international mail fraud scam.


The elaborate fraud has roots in Florida with thousands of victims in 10 countries - stretching from Europe to Australia and New Zealand. One Canadian was also victimized, according to police.


The investigation unfolded after officers pulled over a rental car on June 11 for making a wrong turn, and the driver didn't have a license.


"When officers looked inside the vehicle on the front seat, they saw bags and bags of mail," said Det. Rick Stewart. "As it turned out, they were remittances from this mass mailout marketing fraud."


Juan Hernandez, 28, a Columbian national who was residing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had just arrived in Vancouver three weeks earlier. He set up four postal boxes here with false identification to collect the cash and cheques mailed from elderly victims, aged 68 to 94.


They had received letters from Florida saying they'd just won $2 million or more, but they had to mail a $30 processing fee to Vancouver to claim the prize. When police searched the mailboxes, one held 200 remittances. A total of $20,000 in cash was seized in the investigation, and 5,000 victims were identified.

"In the last seven years, this is the largest take we've ever had involving a telemarketing or mass marketing fraud," said Stewart, adding that Vancouver police are now looking to help U.S. authorities to uncover the Florida criminals behind the scam.


Hernandez has already pleaded guilty and was recently sentenced to six months in jail for fraud over $5,000.


Major international mail scams may be active in many of Canada's major cities, said Stewart, as criminal groups spread their operations across borders to avoid detection.


"Secrecy is of the utmost importance. If I'm running a mass mailing scam I might do it out of Vancouver, but my mailboxes would be somewhere in the United States, maybe Texas, and my victims would probably be in England," said Stewart.


He said uncovering and prosecuting such criminals is difficult, "so to have this guy pulled over by patrol and he's got a bag of evidence sitting on his front seat, it's like Christmas."

8 ways to manage distractions while driving

Jul 18, 2011 10:23 AM, By Deborah Whistler, contributing editor


Distracted drivers pose a deadly risk to everyone on the road, according to the Governors Highway Safety Assn.


The state governors safety group points to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available, 5,870 people lost their lives and another 515,000 were injured in police-reported crashes in which one form of distraction was noted on the crash report.


Drivers engage in a range of distracting activities, according to the safety group, which offers the following tips for managing some of the most common distractions:

  • Turn cell phones off or switch to silent mode before you get in the vehicle.
  • Set up a special message to tell callers that you are driving and you'll get back to them as soon as possible, or sign up for a service that offers this.
  • Pull over to a safe area if you need to make a call or, if possible, ask a co-driver or passenger to make the call for you.
  • Don't ever text, surf the web or read your email while driving. Texting while driving is not only dangerous, it's against the law in most states.
  • Familiarize yourself with state and local laws. Some states and localities prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones. GHSA offers a handy chart of state laws on its website:
  • Review maps and directions before you start to drive. If you need help when you are on the road, ask a co-driver or passenger to help or pull over to a safe location to review the map/directions again.
  • Secure your pets. Pets can be a big distraction in the vehicle. Always secure your pets properly before you start to drive.
  • Focus on driving and driving alone. Refrain from smoking, eating, drinking, reading and any other activity that takes your mind and eyes off the road.



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