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Drugged Driving Statistics

Dr. Alan Weiner MD

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Alan Weiner, MD

March 7, 2019

Abusing drugs or alcohol can lead individuals to participate in activities they would otherwise avoid, like driving while impaired. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is very dangerous and can lead to injury or loss of life for the driver, passengers, or other individuals on the road.

“It’s like a video game,” “it makes me a better driver,” “I’ve done it so many times its second nature.” Do these statements seem frightening? They should, and while they may also seem unbelievable, far too many individuals have uttered them, or similar ones, before climbing into the driver’s seat of a vehicle while under the influence of a drug.

Drugs Increase Risky Behavior

Drug abuse can lead a person to engage more frequently in risky behaviors. One of the most common and deadly examples is driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or being a passenger to someone who has used these substances.

This is because all drugs of abuse in some way, alter your ability to make sound judgments or reason effectively. Many decrease your reaction time and change the way you’re able to gauge time and distance. And many inflate a person’s sense of self-esteem, making it even easier to engage in such dangerous behaviors.

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How Do Drugs And Alcohol Affect Your Brain?

Alcohol and other drugs dull critical functions within your brain, which, by design, are meant to protect you as you interact with your life and surroundings. This impact is felt as certain systems slow, making it difficult for the brain to carry out important duties, such as those required to safely drive a vehicle.

Consuming alcohol and certain drugs to excess can cause:

  • An altered perception of time
  • Blurred vision
  • Decreased reasoning
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired memory
  • Impaired fine motor skills
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Poor balance (critical on motorcycles)
  • Poor coordination
  • Slowed reaction times

As a person’s alcohol or drug consumption rises, these changes are more evident and a person becomes further impaired. The exact nature of impairment varies drug-to-drug and even changes due to a person’s unique characteristics and health.

Hallucinogens (mushrooms, LSD) can distort your perception of reality to even greater extremes, causing delusions, hallucinations, and other altered cognitive states.

Stimulant drugs like cocaine and prescription stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin) actually speed up certain processes within your brain and body. While you might be tempted to think that this would make you more alert or better able to drive, these forms of intoxication still make driving very dangerous. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns that certain stimulants, like cocaine and methamphetamine, increase aggressive and reckless tendencies while driving.

How Many Americans Use Drugs And Drive?

In mid-2016, USA Today warned that “The percentage of traffic deaths in which at least one driver tested positive for drugs has nearly doubled over a decade.”

This is a scary truth which exposes all of us to risks, many of us every day of our lives. Drugged driving doesn’t just affect the driver, it endangers the passengers and any other individuals on the road such as other motorists and/or pedestrians.

The most recent findings published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration on drugged driving, as sourced from the “CBHSQ Report: Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and Illicit Drugs,” assert that “In 2014, 27.7 million people aged 16 or older (11.1 percent) drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year, and 10.1 million (4.1 percent) drove under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year.”

Of these individuals, 7.0 million had used both alcohol and illicit drugs over the previous year, while 5.9 million had used both at the same time. Second, to alcohol, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) writes that marijuana and prescription drugs hold particular concern on our roads today. In this same year, the NHTSA writes that one in five drivers tested positive for drugs.

The prevalence of driving under the influence rises as an individual age from age sixteen, then peaks in the early twenties, and begins to wane as a person gets older. This holds true for both alcohol and illicit drug use, and also the simultaneous use of both.

Alcohol Continues To Be A Massive Threat On The Road

Though many uses drugged driving to refer to substances other than alcohol, alcohol is the most highly abused drug in our nation (and a legal one at that). This widespread use has led to a host of accidents and traffic fatalities.

While alcohol-related traffic fatalities have dropped over the last three decades, by roughly 33 percent, as reported by NHTSA, they still claim far too many lives, specifically:

  • 13,000 lives per year
  • 28 people a day
  • “One person every 51 minutes”

The CDC cites that almost one-third of all traffic-related fatalities in the US were due to alcohol impairment.

Marijuana Is Linked To Increased Risks While Driving

Certain experts believe traffic fatalities are on the rise due to the increasing availability of medical and recreational marijuana through recent legalization efforts. Whether this is true or not is yet to be determined, but marijuana is, without a doubt, a drug which raises concern on our roads.

To elaborate, the NHTSA reports that:

  • The number of drivers who tested positive for marijuana rose by 47 percent.
  • There is a “25% increased likelihood of a marijuana user to be involved in a crash.”
  • “Marijuana users are more likely to be in groups at higher risk of crashes.”

As cautioned by NIDA, “Research studies have shown negative effects of marijuana on drivers, including an increase in lane weaving, poor reaction time, and altered attention to the road.”

Even if you have a prescription for medical marijuana, consider that it, like other prescription medications, can cause critical impairment while driving, to the extent it may be safer to leave your vehicle at home.

Men Have A Heightened Risk

These risks are statistically higher in males versus females, a risk which includes alcohol impairment. The NHTSA details that “In 2014, 23 percent of males were drunk in these crashes, compared to 15 percent for females.”

Are There Safe Levels Of Drug Use That Is Safe To Drive Under?

Perhaps DrinkWise Australia puts it the best: “There’s no absolutely safe level of alcohol consumption for competent driving.” In 2014 alone, 1,764 people lost their lives in crashes where alcohol was a factor even though the BAC levels were less than .08 (the legal limit).

Speaking of other drugs, NIDA writes that “many states are waiting for research to better define blood levels that indicate impairment, such as those they use with alcohol.” For these reasons, it is better to be safe and never drive a vehicle if you’ve been using any drug or consumed enough alcohol to be over the legal limit (and even here you need to recognize your personal limits).

If you think you’re too impaired to drive, hand your keys over and choose a sober driver or ride service. A helpful tool is NHTSA’s SaferRide app.

Protect Your Life On And Off The Road

Are you worried that your drug abuse is endangering yourself or those around you? If so, we can help you to take steps to lead a safer, sober life. Contact us now at RehabCenter.net.

The CBHSQ Report - Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and Illicit Drugs

Slate - Your Big Car Is Killing Me

The National Institute on Drug Abuse - Drugged Driving

USA Today - Spate of drugged driving deaths alarms U.S. regulators

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - Drug-Impaired Driving

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Impaired Driving: Get the Facts

DrinkWise - Have you ever got a lift from someone who's been drinking?

NHTSA - SaferRide Mobile App

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