How Common Is Drugged Driving?

According to 2013 results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9.9 million people (3.8 percent of teens and adults) admitted to driving while under the influence of drugs, both illegal and prescription. This may be underrepresenting the problem, though. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in 2013 and 2014, nearly 25 percent of drivers tested positive for drugs.

The number of people who admitted to driving while under the influence of alcohol in 2013 was 28.7 million, or nearly 11 percent of adults and teens. Clearly drugged driving happens less frequently than drunk driving, but it is still dangerously significant.

Consequences of Drugged Driving

It’s not easy to determine how many crashes, injuries and fatalities on roadways are caused by drugs. Unlike alcohol, drugs are varied and there is no consistent roadside test for measuring drugs in the body. Many drivers who cause accidents while impaired have used both alcohol and drugs, making it difficult to determine which substance abuse had a greater impact on the outcome. However, we do know from NHTSA data that in 2009, 18 percent of drivers who died in a crash had at least one drug in their systems. Another study found that 11 percent of fatal car crashes involved a driver who had been drugged.

Marijuana and Driving

Marijuana is one of the most abused drugs in the U.S. Now that it is legal for recreational use in several states, the question of how dangerous it is to drive while using marijuana becomes much more important. According to facts from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana-impaired driving has surpassed drunk driving among college students and high school seniors. One in three college students reports driving after using marijuana. These drivers are 65 percent more likely to get into a crash than drivers who have not used marijuana.

People who smoke pot may not feel as impaired as when drinking, but this drug does significantly change perceptions and other aspects of thinking and moving. There are several effects of marijuana that can impair the ability to operate a vehicle. Marijuana reduces alertness. It alters motor control and slows reaction time. It changes how you perceive speed and time. It impairs hand-eye coordination and it affects memory and decision-making.

Drugged driving may not be as talked about or as reported on as drunk driving, but it needs to be addressed. If you or someone you care about uses drugs, even legal prescription drugs, be aware of the risks and dangers of driving under the influence. Drugs impair the ability to drive well and to drive safely. It’s a fact that everyone needs to know, yet not enough people take it seriously. Drugged driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving, and when word spreads, more people may think twice about driving while using drugs.


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