Drugged Driving—What You Should Know

Last Updated: Friday, June 1, 2018

Blurred nighttime road from perspective of a drugged driver

In 2016, 44 percent of drivers in fatal car crashes (with known results) tested positive for drugs, according to the recent report entitled "Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and Opioids Raise Critical Issues for States" by the Governors Highway Safety Association. This is up from 28 percent in 2006. See a graphic from the report below for more information about drugged driving and marijuana and opioids.

 

graphic from GHSA report

"Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and Opioids Raise Critical Issues for States" by the Governors Highway Safety Association

 

More Facts About the Dangers of "Drugged Driving"

What is drug-impaired driving? Driving under the influence of over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, marijuana, or illegal drugs.

Why is drug-impaired driving dangerous? Over-the-counter (OTC) medications and drugs affect the brain and can alter perception, mental processes, attention, balance, coordination, reaction time and other abilities required for safe driving. Even small amounts of some drugs can have a serious effect on driving ability.

A recent national survey showed 22.5% of nighttime weekend drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or OTC drugs that can impair driving. (Drug-Impaired Driving: A Guide for States, April 2017. NHTSA 2014 Drug-Impaired Driving Survey)

What substances are used the most when driving? After alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used drug. (Source: National Institute of Drug Abuse)

What happens when you use drugs and drive? Marijuana can decrease a person’s ability to drive a car. It slows reaction time, impairs a driver’s concentration and attention, and reduces hand-eye coordination. It is dangerous to drive after mixing alcohol and marijuana. Driving after using prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicine, such as cough suppressants, antihistamines, sleeping aids, and anti-anxiety medications may impair driving ability.

How many teens are smoking marijuana and driving? More than one in eight high school seniors admitted in a national survey to driving under the influence of marijuana in the two weeks prior to the survey (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2012 Monitoring the Future Survey. )

Is it legal? Even in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, driving while under the influence of marijuana is still illegal. Unfortunately, too many people are misinformed. A study conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) found that a third of all teens believe it is legal to drive under the influence of marijuana. In addition 27 percent of parents believed it was legal.

Not only is driving while high illegal, it's also very dangerous. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the effects of marijuana can include: altered senses and sense of time, slow reaction time, anxiety, hallucinations and more.

Back of male teen's head who is driving a car

TIP: Parents—tell your teen not to drive after using marijuana or other drugs, and don’t get in a car with a driver who has used marijuana or other drugs!

FACT: More teens are driving after smoking marijuana than after heavy drinking. A national study showed that from 2009-2011, the percentage of high school seniors who drove after using marijuana was almost three times as high as those who drove after drinking heavily. (American Journal of Public Health 103:2027-2034)

Remember: Marijuana and many medications act on parts of the brain that can impair driving ability. Many prescription drugs have warning labels against the operation of machinery and driving motor vehicles, for a certain period of time after use. You are more likely to be injured or in an accident while driving while under the influence of marijuana or prescription drugs.

 

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