Drugged Driving Dangerous

The dangers of drunk driving are well known. The dangers of distracted driving, such as talking on a cell phone or texting while driving, are increasingly recognized. The dangers of drugged driving are now being highlighted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) working with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and other federal agencies.

When misused, prescription, over-the-counter, and illegal drugs can impair perception, judgment, motor skills, and memory. Recent surveys have shown how pervasive drugged driving has become throughout the entire United States.

About one in every six weekend nighttime drivers in The National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers tested positive for either legal or illegal drugs. The survey, by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), is nationally representative.

About one in every ten high school seniors reported driving after smoking marijuana within a two week period before being surveyed in the nation-wide 2008 Monitoring the Future Study (MTF).

Surprisingly, in two-thirds of the states it is not illegal to drive with illegal drugs in ones system. The Office of National Drug Control Policy encourages states to explore legal responses, such as per se laws that make it illegal for individuals to drive with illicit drugs in their system. This would help keep drugged drivers off the road, hold them accountable for their actions, encourage them to get treatment, and protect themselves and others.

The lack of laws and the inattention given to drugged driving makes it much easier to avoid apprehension by driving drugged than drunk.

We are making great strides in reducing the incidence of drunk driving and alcohol-related traffic crashes and we must not reduce our efforts. However, we also need to address the very serious problem of drugged driving. MADD Canada has long recognized the problem and drawn public attention to it. We must now convince the MADD corporation in the United States to drop its strong opposition to addressing the drugged driving epidemic. Too many lives are being lost because of drugged driving to ignore the tragedy.

Weekend Nighttime Drivers Testing
Positive for Drugs, by Drug Category

Drug Category Percentage
Illegal 11.3%
Medications 3.9%
Illegal & Medications 1.1%
Source: 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers: Drug Results, U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, December 2009. Note: 5,910 drivers were tested. "Medications" includes prescription and over‐the‐counter drugs. Percentages are weighted. Results are based on oral fluid and blood testing; 83.7 percent of drivers tested negative for drugs.



  • Office of National Drug Control Policy. Working to get drugged drivers off the road. Fact Sheet, May, 2010; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers: Drug Results. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, December. 2009; Bachman, J. G., Johnston, L. D., & O'Malley, P. M. Monitoring the Future: Questionnaire Responses from the Nation's High School Seniors, 2008. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, 2009.

Readings on Drugged Driving

  • Bachelard, Michael. Culture of drug-driving shocks police. Weekend Australian, April 16, 2005.
  • Butterworth, F. Many Undetected, Use Drugs and Then Drive, Report Says. New York Times, November 15, 2002, A20.
  • Caught out by roadside drug tests. Daily Telegraph, April 16, 2005.
  • Hodgson, Shelley. Drug drive rates top drinking. Melbourne Herald Sun, April 16, 2005;
  • McDonough, S. Technology for Detecting Illegal Drugs in Drivers Improving but Laws Still Lagging, Study Says. Associated Press, November 14, 2002.
  • Milovanovic, Selma. More drivers on drugs than alcohol. The Age, April 16, 2005.
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Expert Panel Recommends Zero Tolerance for Drugged Drivers: Current Laws in Most States Inadequate to Identify and Treat Drugged Drivers. Press release, November 14, 2002.
  • Salant, J. D. Government Plans Crackdown on Drugged Driving. Associated Press, November 19, 2002.
  • Wilson, Alex. One in 73 drivers on drugs. Brisbane Courier-Mail, April 15, 2005

Filed Under: Drinking and Driving