Drugged Driving: Is It as Bad as Driving and Drinking?

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Drugged Driving: Is It as Bad as Driving and Drinking?

Drugged driving is becoming more commonplace in America.  Typically, we think of impaired driving as alcohol-related.  However, studies show that more people are driving while under the influence of a variety of substances.

The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that 12.6 million people were guilty of drugged driving.  This number doesn’t include the 20.5 million who drove while under the influence of alcohol.  Clearly, our highways are not the safest place to be today.

Drugs Most Commonly Used While Driving

Of course, alcohol is number one among the drugs most commonly used while driving.  But, marijuana is a close second on the list.

What are some of the ways different drugs affect a person’s ability to drive safely?

  • Alcohol – can cause slow reflexes, altered eye movement, blurred vision, distorted thinking, and more.
  • Marijuana – slows a person’s reaction time and alters their ability to focus on the road.  The number of drivers who tested positive for marijuana increased after recreational use was legalized in some states.
  • Opioids – cause drowsiness and impaired judgment.  About 19.7 percent of people who drove under the influence tested positive for opioids.
  • Cocaine or methamphetamine – makes drivers more reckless and aggressive.
  • Prescription drugs – can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and other side effects that will impair the ability to drive safely.

Combining any of the above will increase the potential for an accident.  Furthermore, drugged driving is illegal in all states.

Misconceptions About Marijuana are Dangerous

Whether the substance is legal or illicit, driving while under the influence is against the law.  This applies to legalized recreational marijuana as well.

Some people who use marijuana regularly insist that the drug makes them drive better.  This assertion has been proven false.  In truth, marijuana inhibits a person’s ability to multi-task which is a critical skill for driving safely.

Of course, the presence of a drug in a person’s system doesn’t always mean they are impaired.  However, it is important that we raise awareness about the potential risks of impaired driving.

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How Many Crashes are Caused by Drugged Driving?

It is difficult to determine the number of crashes caused by drugged driving for several reasons.  First, a reliable roadside test for drug levels isn’t available.  Secondly, some drugs remain in the system for days or weeks.  This makes it hard to determine when the drug was used and if it had impaired the person’s driving.

In addition, some drivers who cause crashes have both alcohol and drugs in their system, which makes it difficult to pinpoint the one that had the greater role in causing the crash.  Also, if a driver tested for an illegal blood alcohol level, officers won’t usually test for drugs.

Other Factors that Contribute to Driving While Impaired

Teens are more likely to be affected by drugged driving because they are less experienced as drivers.  They may fail to recognize unsafe situations or underestimate other drivers on the road.  Combining this lack of experience with drug or alcohol use while driving can be tragic.  In fact, among teens, vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death.

College students are susceptible to driving while impaired for many reasons.  They are enjoying the freedom of being away from home, and often celebrate this freedom by drinking and partying.  However, studies show that one in six college students drove while under the influence of a drug other than alcohol, with marijuana as the most common.

Older adults are vulnerable to driving under the influence of prescription drugs.  These individuals may be taking several painkiller medications that impair their reaction time or cause sleepiness.  Sometimes, the effects don’t appear right away, so the person thinks it’s okay to drive.

What Can We Do About Drugged Driving?

NHTSA continues efforts to better understand how marijuana affects drivers.  They are bringing together experts such as prosecutors, law enforcement officers, substance abuse experts, and more to develop strategies to reduce drugged driving.

Also, we can all take part in reducing drugged driving.  Offer to be a designated driver, get a ride if you’ll be drinking, or take the keys away from someone who is intoxicated.

If you know someone who is struggling with substance abuse, contact us at A Forever Recovery today to learn about our treatment program.


  • newsroom.aaa.com – Fatal Crashes Involving Drivers Who Test Positive for Marijuana Increase After State Legalizes Drugs
  • drugabuse.gov – Drugged Driving DrugFacts

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