driving on drugs: stats and facts
When we think “impaired driving,” drinking generally springs to mind. But driving while on drugs, even seemingly safe prescription drugs, can be just as dangerous.
Any drugs, from legal prescription meds and over-the-counter (OTC) cold and allergy medications to illicit ones like cocaine, may quickly affect reasoning and motor skills. We'll explain.
Driving on OTC and prescription drugs
If you've ever taken cold medicine, you know that it can induce sleepiness. That's fine, unless you're hitting the road instead of hitting the hay. A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that nearly 17 percent of all fatal crashes involved a drowsy driver. And since some prescription and OTC drugs have drowsiness, dizziness, or blurred vision as a side effect, it's best to err on the side of caution. Ask your doctor about any potential side effects to see if a particular medicine could impair driving.
Driving on marijuana
Until recently, not much conclusive data existed about the effects of marijuana on driving ability. But a recent study by the British Medical Journal found that those who drove within a few hours of smoking pot were about twice as likely to cause an accident resulting in injury or death (gulp) than sober ones.
This statistic isn't surprising since THC (marijuana's active ingredient) is known to cause distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and delayed reaction times — not good when you have to react quickly to the unpredictability of the road.
Who’s driving on drugs?
A lot of people, unfortunately. The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 10.6 million people admitted to driving under the influence of illicit drugs in the past year alone. (And who knows how many others drove while medicated on something legal?) Of those surveyed, young drivers age 18 to 25 had the highest reported incidents of drugged driving.
It also turns out that residents of some states are more likely to drive on drugs than those in other states. Citing data from 2006–2009, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that the states with the highest rates of drugged driving were Rhode Island, Vermont, and Massachusetts. The states with the lowest rates were Iowa, New Jersey, and Mississippi.
Drugged driving and car accidents
Research on drugged driving is limited compared to its counterpart, drunk driving. This is likely because it's difficult to measure the correlation between drugs (both legal and illegal) and car accidents. Unlike alcohol, drugs can't be easily detected with a simple breath test, and even in fatal car accidents, drug test results are unavailable for a majority of drivers.
That said, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 18 percent of U.S. drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for legal and illegal drugs in 2009 alone. While this isn't incontestable proof that drugs accounted for the deadly accidents, it does say something about the dangers of driving on drugs itself.
Drugged driving and car insurance
Because of the dangers, it makes sense that all states have strict penalties for those convicted of driving while impaired by a drug. And because drugged driving affects any driver's ability to drive safely, car insurers take note of any prior drugged driving convictions. More risk translates to higher rates.
Drugged driving laws
The laws surrounding driving on drugs are as varied as they are complicated. Learn all about them here.
The cost of a DUI
Find out how much a DUI conviction could cost. (Hint: it's a pretty penny.)