Nearly half of traffic deaths due to drugs; Hawai‘i police urge motorists to drive sober

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With impairment playing a role in half of all traffic fatalities on Big Island roads in recent years, Hawai‘i Island police are urging motorists to think twice before driving impaired.

While most people are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, many are less aware of the dangers of driving impaired due to drugs. Even something as simple as cold medication or an over-the-counter sleep aid can impair your driving.

“If you’ve used any substance that impedes your abilities to think, act, or understand at all, you are impaired and you should not be driving,” says Torey Keltner, Hawai‘i Police Department’s Traffic Services Manager. If you feel different you drive different, it’s just that simple. There’s no excuse for impaired driving. Have a plan ahead of time to get home safe with a completely sober driver.”

Hawai‘i Island police have long partnered with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to remind drivers about the deadly consequences of drug-impaired driving. Nationally, in 2019, 49% of drivers who were killed in crashes and were tested for drugs, tested positive.
Locally, that percentage mirrors Hawai‘i County’s statistics. Last year there were 34 traffic fatalities on Hawai‘i Island, the highest number of deaths since 2012, when there were 38 traffic deaths. Of those 34 deaths, impairment a factor in half, or 17, of those deaths. Drugs were involved in 15 of the 17 impaired deaths last year.

Recent traffic fatalities on Hawai‘i Island. Photo Courtesy: Hawai‘i Police Department

The number of drug-related traffic deaths was even higher in 2021 when 26 people were killed in traffic collisions. Of those 26 traffic deaths, impairment was a factor in 21 of them, with drugs playing a role in 20 of the 21 impaired fatalities. In 2020, when Hawai‘i Island, like the rest of the country, experienced long-term lockdowns resulting in lower-than-normal traffic fatalities, impairment still played a prominent role with 12 of the 15 traffic deaths that year due to impairment.

Hawai‘i police ask drivers to remember these tips whenever they plan to hit the road, even if only to run errands around town:

  • If you have used an impairing substance, such as marijuana, do not drive. Passengers should never ride with an impaired driver. If you think a driver may be impaired, do not get in the car.
  • If you have a friend who is about to drive while impaired by drugs, take the keys away 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 available, use a ride sharing program.  
  • If you see an impaired driver on the road, contact the police department’s non-emergency line at (808) 935-3311 or if it is an emergency, call 911.


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