SALT LAKE CITY – Drug-related DUI crashes on Utah roads have doubled from 2014 to 2015, Utah Highway Patrol reported Monday.
In 2014, there were 320 such crashes and the following year there were 701.
These statistics are more than just numbers for a Lehi family. Brooke Simpson lost her father, Randy, three years ago in December after he was hit by a driver under the influence of a prescription drug.
“A man ran a red light and t-boned him and killed him instantly,” Simpson said of her father’s crash. “The thing that is so frustrating and has such the consequences is choosing to get behind the wheel after taking those prescription medications. Sadly, for us it's had a deadly consequence.”
Simpson’s family and her mom Tena Rummage hurt every day. However, they feel that talking about what happened to Randy will have an impact on their community.
Simpson and Rummage say Randy was a positive man, always happy and wanting to see the good in people. That is part of their motivation to never let another family go through the pain they've endured.
“Her dad, my husband, was probably one of the most optimistic person,” said Tena Rummage, who was married to Randy for 42 years. “He was always trying to bring out the good in others.”
Simpson said their family has been changed forever because of somebody's choice.
“Irresponsible choice to get behind the wheel when they are on prescription drugs," she said. "We miss our dad every day and we have to live with that heartache; and not have him here and not sharing the memories of his grand kids grow up.”
Simpson and Rummage said most people they meet only understand a DUI as an alcohol-related incident, and they want to change that conversation.
“We have to start talking more about the prescription medication epidemic that we have and people getting behind the wheel and driving,” Simpson said. “It has to become part of our conversation in our communities and society.”
“What they are not understanding is that prescription medications impair the driver as well,” said Sgt. Todd Royce with UHP.
Royce is working hard to fix the growing drug-related crashes epidemic. In the last two years UHP has made 285 troopers Drug Recognition Expert certified.
Those troopers went through Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement training. The program provides drug-specific detection tools for roadside investigations.
“That means when I stop a vehicle, I look at impairment,” Royce said. “I can see other signs that leads me to believe they are drug impaired versus alcohol impaired.”
Besides the addicts, Royce explained, some people taking prescription drugs do not pay attention to the warnings on the bottles that tell you not to operate heavy machinery while taking that certain drug.
“With the 22 years that I've been on the road there's been many people that I've had to take into custody and arrest them for DUI that would never in their right mind ever drive impaired under alcohol, but they fall into this circumstance with prescription drugs,” Royce said.
Royce added the main drug-impaired driving they see on the roads are THC, meth, opiate related drugs, especially hydrocodone.