Drunk driving has plagued our country for decades. As if things weren’t bad enough, some statistics indicate that drugged driving is now an even bigger issue than drunk driving, and one that is only getting progressively worse. Consider the following statistics from the Drug Enforcement Administration and other organizations:

  • Every year, over 8 million Americans over age 12 drive under the influence of drugs at least once, amounting to about 3.6% of the population. That percentage has been increasing steadily the past several years.
  • It’s primarily young adults that are responsible for drugged driving. While the national average is 3.6%, about 16% of 19 year olds have driven drugged at least once in the past year.
  • It’s more common for high schoolers to drive under the influence of marijuana than under the influence of alcohol. 68% of high school students have driven while high on marijuana, compared to only 48% who had driven under the influence of alcohol.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that drugged driving is involved in at least 10-22% of all motor vehicle crashes.
  • The Department of Transportation was able to prove that marijuana slows a driver’s reaction time considerably, and can alter a person’s perception of space, time, distance and surroundings. The concluded that drugged driving on marijuana was just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.

The above statistics are definitely cause for concern. While a great deal of attention has been paid to addressing drunk driving over the past 30 years, very little has been dedicated to drugged driving. One limitation is that police officers have very little in the way of standardized testing for drug intoxication, at least not in the same way we have standard methods for alcohol testing.

An Expert Opinion for Safer Roads

Since 2015, more people have died from drugged driving related accidents than drunk driving accidents each year. We need to address this urgently and make our roads safer for everyone.
43% of motorists who lost their lives in an accident in 2015 tested for drugs in their system, whether they were a driver or passenger. This is compared to 37% who had alcohol in their system. James Hedlund, a safety expert with “Highway Safety North” based in Ithaca, NY, said:

“Data in the report showed that for the first time, there are more dead drivers for which we have test results that are positive for drugs than there are for drivers who tested positive for alcohol. Drug impairment is a complicated topic. Drugs can affect people in different ways. Some things make you super excited, and some things slow you down. Many officers are not trained to identify the signs and symptoms of drivers impaired by drugs other than alcohol. For drivers, it’s illegal to drive while impaired by drugs in the same way that it’s illegal to drive while impaired by alcohol. And you just plain shouldn’t do it.”

Jonathan Adkins, the Executive Director of the Governor’s Association, said:

“As states across the country continue to struggle with drug-impaired driving, it’s critical that we help them understand the current landscape and provide examples of best practices so they can craft the most effective countermeasures.”

And Russ Rader from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said:

“There’s no question that alcohol remains our biggest highway safety problem. There are a couple of problems with drawing the conclusion that drugged driving is now somehow a bigger problem with alcohol. For one, there isn’t very consistent testing for drivers who are killed in crashes with regard to drugs. We don’t have a good handle on what to do about it, but we do know how to address alcohol impairment. Another problem, particularly with marijuana, is that people often combine the two, so how do you separate them? If somebody’s impaired. They are impaired.”

Regardless of whether we view drunk driving or drugged driving as a bigger issue, we can all agree that drugged driving has become a serious issue, and one that needs to be addressed urgently. We have managed to get a handle on drunk driving to some degree through prevention and education campaigns, and now need to do the same for drugged driving. The only difference is that we need to act a lot faster to address this issue than we did with drunk driving.