Drugged Driving: A Major, Widespread Problem

Drugged driving. Is it really a problem? The dangers of driving while intoxicated have been widely understood for 35 years. But the dangers of drugged driving remain almost totally unrecognized. This leads to the needless deaths of thousands of people each year in drugged driving-related crashes.

drugged driving

The problem is not simply that of illegal drug use. Misused prescription and over-the-counter drugs can also impair perception, judgment, motor skills, and memory.

Driving while impaired by legal and other drugs has become widespread around the world. For example, it is three times more common than drunken driving in the Australian State of Victoria.

A national survey in the US was done by the federal government. It found that about one of every six drivers tested positive for either legal or illegal drugs on weekend nights.

Another nation-wide survey in the U.S. found that about ten percent of high school seniors reported driving after having smoked marijuana within the previous two weeks.

The problem of drugged driving is growing. For example, over a ten-year study period in six U.S. states, the proportion of drivers killed in traffic crashes who tested positive for alcohol remained stable. But the proportion who tested positive for drugs jumped 71.7%.

In a large number of U.S. states it is not illegal to drive with illegal drugs in ones system. The general indifference and lack of laws contributes to the problems.

This lack of laws and the inattention given make it much easier to avoid arrest for drugged driving than drunk driving. So some people choose to drive under the influence of drugs rather than alcohol. That way, they  avoid a DWI or DUI.

We are making good strides in reducing drunk driving. Alcohol-related traffic crashes are down greatly. We must continue our efforts to reduce DWI and DUI. But we also need to address drugged driving. Too many lives are being lost to ignore the tragedy.

The following links address the extent of the problem (I) and public policy (II).

I. Extent of Problem

Drugged Driving Greatly Underreported

Drugged driving is greatly under-reported. The problem is much more serious than most people realize.

More Drivers on Drugs than Intoxicated by Alcohol

Drugged driving is three times more common than drunken driving on the roads of the Australian state of Victoria.

Drinking and Drugged Driving

About three and a half times as many employees report having taken illegal drugs than alcohol just before coming to work.

Drugged Driving: Young Drivers Going to Pot

Fourteen percent of Ontario students in grades 10 through 12 report having driven after consuming two alcoholic drinks. That compares to 20% who report having driven within an hour of smoking marijuana.

Alcohol and Drugs in Fatally Injured Drivers

A study of over 20,000 fatally injured drivers found that about 40% tested positive for alcohol. But about 30% tested positive for drugs.  And about 20% tested positive for two or more substances.

Drugged Drivers Outnumber Drunk Drivers 7.4 to One on Weekend Nights

A survey of the U.S. found that 2.2% of drivers on weekend nights were intoxicated and 16.3% tested positive for drugs.

Drugged Driving Up

Kentucky law enforcement officials report a major and growing problem of prescriptions drug abuse among drivers.

II. Public Policy and Policy Implications

Drugged Driving Safer than Drunk Driving

Very few drivers are ever arrested for drugged driving. It’s a largely ignored. That’s why many people consider drugged driving better to do than drunk driving.

Drugged Driving Dangerous

The frequent lack of laws and the inattention given to drugged driving makes it much more difficult to prevent impaired driving that results from drugs than from alcohol.

Drug Use (Marijuana) and Driving Impairment

An Australian study found that driving after smoking marijuana can impair a driver. However, most people don’t know the dangers caused by smoking marijuana before driving.

Drug Substituted for Alcohol by Underage Persons

With  increasing crackdowns on the availability of alcoholic beverages to young people, they  are increasingly turning to alternatives such Klonopin.

Drinking Alcohol and Using Marijuana

Marijuana use drops when people reach the legal drinking age. The age 21 law may push young people into drug use.

Promoting Marijuana Use?

A nation-wide survey was done in the U.S.  It suggest preventing those under 21 from getting alcohol promotes more easily-obtained marijuana.

Both Prescription and Illicit Drugs Increase Risk of Traffic Accidents

Researchers reviewed 66 studies on the effects of using both illicit or prescribed drugs while driving. Most drugs increased the risk of crashes. That risk tended to be higher for fatal crashes.

Canada’s Drunk and Impaired Driving Laws

The Canadian Criminal Code prohibits impaired drugged driving.

Teen Marijuana Use Up, Drinking Down

The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration encourages states to test for drugs after a crash. Very few states ever do so.

We Save Lives (Drunk, Distracted and Drugged Driving)

Candace Lightner formed We Save Lives. She also organized MADD. We Save Lives expands the fight against impaired driving. It addresses drunk, distracted  and drugged driving. She formed We Save Lives because of MADD refused to address drugged or other impaired driving.


  • 1. Brady, J., & Guohua, L. Trends in alcohol and other drugs detected in fatally injured drivers in the United States, 1999-2010. Am J Epidem, 2014, 179(6), 692-699.

Readings on drugged driving.

  • Brady, J. and Li, G. Prevalence of alcohol and other drugs in fatally injured drivers. Addict, 2012, ePub, DOI: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.2012.03993.x.
  • Cafaro, T., Slipping through the cracks. W New Eng Law Rev., 32, p. 33, 2010, 32, p. 33.
  • Christophersen, A., et al.  Drugged driving in the Nordic countries. Foren Sci Int., 1999, 106(3), 173-190.
  • Crost, B. and Guerrero, S. The effect of alcohol availability on marijuana use. J Hlth Econ., 2012, 31(1), 112-121.
  • DuPont, R., et al.  Drugged Driving Research: A White Paper. Rockville, MD: Inst Behav Health, 2011.
  • DuPont, R.. Prescription drug abuse. J Psycho Drugs, 2010, 42(2), 127-132
  • Elvik, R. Risk of road accident associated with the use of drugs. Acci Anal Prev., 2014, ePub, DOI: 10.1016/j.aap.2012.06.017.
  • Reisfield, G., et al. The mirage of impairing drug concentration thresholds. J Psycho Drugs, 2010, 42(2), 127-132