Police see rise in drug-impaired road deaths

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Police Department is reporting 33 traffic fatalities this year, and it’s seeing a trend among those crashes.

“It’s not the traditional alcohol that people used to drink in the past, it was mostly drugs,” said Sgt. Hawaii Police Department Area II Police Commander Thomas Koyanagi.

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According to Hawaii police, 42% of these traffic deaths were due to drug impairment. This number is expected to increase with 19 deaths pending toxicology reports. According to the police, all drugs can restrict vision and slow reaction time.

“It’s not just regular illegal drugs, but also prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs. People have to realize that, you know, you have to read the recommended dosage on whatever medicine you’re taking,” Koyanagi said.

It’s not just the island of Hawaii that sees these types of accidents. Honolulu police are reporting nine fatal crashes this year involving drug impairment.

It comes as Mothers Against Drunk Driving expands its messaging ahead of the holidays.

“Too often people think it’s not me; it does not apply to me and yes it does,” said Theresa Paulette, program manager of Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Victim Services. “So people really need to be aware of what they’re using, whether it’s legal or illegal drugs, and not get behind the wheel of a car.”

According to the Honolulu District Attorney’s Office, harsher penalties are provided for those who are heavily intoxicated by alcohol; but when it comes to illegal or prescription drugs, drivers can also face charges of manslaughter and negligent homicide.

The Hawaii Department of Transportation reports 105 road deaths this year so far, compared to 94 for all of 2021.

“105 friends and family members have already been killed on Hawaii’s highways this year,” said Ed Sniffen, deputy highways director for the Hawaii Department of Transportation. “The Hawaii DOT reminds drivers that your vigilance and attention are needed to prevent more deaths. There is no place for drunk or drugged driving in our state. Please enjoy the holidays and drive responsibly”

As the holidays approach, motorists can expect more control on the roads.

“Some guys might think, ‘Hey, I haven’t been drinking and they’re not going to get me. When you walk around and stand on one leg, somebody under the influence of drugs, whatever what it may be and depending on how much it consumed, is going to show signs of weakening in these performance tests,” Koyanagi said.

Police statewide are asking drivers to be responsible and not be the cause of the family tragedy.

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“They can apologize to their face, but that will never bring that person back to life,” Koyanagi said.

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