Drunk Driving at All-Time Low, Driving while on Drugs at All-Time High

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has worked tirelessly to increase awareness of the dangers of drunk driving in an effort to stamp out driving while intoxicated. While surveys show that drunk driving has declined and is at an all-time low, driving while under the influence of marijuana or prescription drugs has increased dramatically.

The NHTSA in its Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers discovered that drunk driving has dropped by 33% in the past 8 years. This is an astonishing drop of 75% in the past 40 years. With that said, drivers are now increasingly driving under the influence of something else – drugs. The survey found that 25% of drivers tested positive for at least one dangerous drug.

While the NHTSA is celebrating its accomplishment regarding drunk driving, it is simultaneously buckling down to explore ideas on how to crack down on driving while under the influence of marijuana or prescription drugs. The NHTSA has been working with researchers, the police, and policy organizations to examine current policies and tweak them to deal with this new issue. The goal is to save lives and reduce car accidents.

The NHTSA has also conducted the National Roadside Survey. The survey has only been completed 5 times over the last four decades. Drivers nation-wide can opt to participate in the fully anonymous survey. In cities that the NHTSA conducts the survey, the NHTSA installs signs on major highways and streets, advertising the location of the voluntary survey. Drivers can then decide to drive to the site and volunteer to answer questions for the survey.

Though the survey is anonymous, many drivers are worried about admitting to illegal activity in the survey. As such, the NHTSA has worked with law enforcement to ensure that the drivers have complete privacy and can feel free to say anything without fear of repercussion.

According to the survey, only 8% of drivers admitted to driving on weekends with alcohol in their system. Only 1% of these drivers were found to have a blood alcohol level higher than the legal limit in their state. This represents a drop of 30% from the 2007 survey and a drop of 80% from the 1973 survey, the first year the survey was conducted.

However, alcohol is not the only substance that can alter one’s ability to think, see clearly, and react quickly. The use of illegal drugs is skyrocketing. For instance, more drivers are found to have illegal drugs in their system than alcohol. 20% of weekend nighttime drivers had illegal drugs in their system. This was an increase of 4% from 2007. Marijuana represents the vast majority of these illegal drugs, clocking in at 50%.

Another survey focused specifically on marijuana found that marijuana smokers are more likely to get into accidents. Correlation, however, is not causation. Young men in general are at the highest risk of getting into accidents, and the study found that drivers under the influence of marijuana were usually young men and were usually driving with large numbers of young men. This may have contributed to the high number of car crashes.

While some individuals have claimed that marijuana use does not affect their ability to drive, many studies have been conducted involving driving simulators and test tracks. With driving simulators, a volunteer simulates driving a car, similar to an arcade game. The simulator can change the screen that shows the path the car is driving by simulating what a driver would see if high or drunk. The simulator can also slow down the game to simulate the slowed reaction times. With a test track, drivers are given marijuana at varying levels and asked to do things such as drive in a straight line, brake properly, park the car, and swerve around cones. Both types of studies have found that marijuana use significantly impairs drivers.

The NHTSA has plans to do a wide variety of other studies to further examine the effects and prevalence of using drugs while driving.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident, contact the expert personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC today to review your claims.


Gordon Trowbridge, NHTSA Releases Two New Studies on Impaired Driving on U.S. Roads, NHTSA (Feb. 6, 2015).

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