Studies: Drunk Driving Down, Drug-Impaired Driving Up


Although drunk driving has long been one of the most common causes of vehicle crashes in Rhode Island and the rest of the nation, two recent studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveal that efforts to combat drunk driving appear to be working – but more efforts may be needed to reduce drug-impaired driving.

According to the latest “National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers,” the number of drivers found to have alcohol in their systems has dropped by almost one-third since 2007, and more than three-quarters since 1973 when the first survey was taken.

While this is good news, the survey also exposed an increase in the number of drug-impaired drivers. It appears that many more drivers are getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana or other recreational drugs or prescription medications. In fact, 1 in 4 drivers tested positive for drugs that are known to be capable of impairing the ability to drive.

Drunk Driving and Drug-Impaired Driving Statistics

In its most recent survey, NHTSA found that only about 8 percent of weekend nighttime drivers had alcohol in their systems. Only a little more than 1 percent had a blood alcohol content (BAC) at or over the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

The number of weekend nighttime drivers who were found with evidence of prescription medications or illegal drugs in their systems increased from 16.3 percent (2007) to 20.0 percent (2014). The number of drivers found to have THC, the active component in marijuana, in their systems rose by almost 50 percent over the same period, from 8.6 percent to 12.6 percent.

Does Marijuana Use Increase the Risk of Car Accidents?

As the complete effects of drug-impaired driving have not been fully determined, NHTSA conducted a second survey in an effort to conclude whether marijuana use increases the risk of car accidents and collisions. While this survey revealed an increase in the likelihood of accidents among marijuana users, there was no conclusive evidence tying the increase to marijuana itself.

In fact, NHTSA believes the increased risk may simply be due to the fact that marijuana users tend to be part of demographic groups already at higher risk for crashes, such as young men.

Marijuana, like most drugs, has been known to impair judgment, coordination, reaction time, perception, awareness and basic motor skills. The extent of a person’s impairment will depend greatly on the type of drug used and the quantity consumed. Part of the problem with determining the effects of drugs on drivers is that studies have shown marijuana can remain in a person’s body for between three hours and several days.

To protect themselves and others, drivers must avoid getting behind the wheel of a vehicle after consuming any substance that could reduce driving ability.

If you are injured in a crash caused by another driver’s drug or alcohol impairment, you will likely face medical bills, lost wages and other losses that could potentially be recovered through an auto accident lawsuit.

The Rhode Island personal injury attorneys at Marasco & Nesselbush provide free case reviews to motor vehicle accident victims and their families. Call us at 401-443-2999 or fill out a contact form to set up a free legal consultation. We have four offices located in Providence, Wakefield, Warwick, and Woonsocket to easily serve you.