WASHINGTON – DUI doesn't just apply to drinkers anymore.
White House Drug Czar John Walters launched a campaign on Tuesday to stop people from driving while under the influence of drugs, a crime that is estimated to have occurred 8 million times last year, causing 17,000 deaths by car accidents.
"The bottom line is simple. Marijuana is the most widely abused illegal drug. It slows driver's perception of time, space and distance. Cocaine and methanphetamine result in risky and unsafe driving behaviors and endanger thousands of lives each year. Cocaine and meth cause drivers to speed, change lanes and put other innocent citizens at risk of a deadly accident," said Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The campaign includes new print, radio and television ads to educate the public about the dangers and consequences of driving while intoxicated on drugs, a condition that is not as widely known about or branded the way driving while drinking is.
"I do believe that, like we said before, that there is a stigma around drunk driving that causes people to stop and think and tell others about it, but I don't think that there's enough stigma around drugged driving. People think that it's OK," said Kelly Thompson, whose mother was killed in a marijuana-related accident.
Federal officials are going to work with states to tighten enforcement of existing laws and pass new legislation to detect and prosecute people found driving under the influence of illegal drugs. Most states currently do not have measurements for determining if people are under the influence of illegal drugs, the way they can test blood alcohol levels.
In order for police to test drugged drivers, the White House, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the American Automobile Association have joined together to develop new drug detection tools. The equipment will replace older screening methods, which have often proved ineffective.
"Specifically, these instruments are designed to identify individuals with alcohol-use disorders, drug-use disorders," said AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety CEO Peter Kissinger. "Unfortunately, what we learned was that none of the existing screening instruments were able to consistently identify alcohol-use disorders very reliably, and none of them had even been evaluated with respect to their ability to detect drug-use disorders."
The new tools are currently being field tested in England and throughout Europe. Officials hope to begin U.S. testing soon.
Fox News' Jacqueline Dizdul contributed to this report.