What Do We Really Know About Drugged Driving?
Years of social marketing messages and sobriety checkpoints have been effective in reducing drunk driving crashes. However, drugged driving is on the rise,[i] and it is seldom talked about or researched.
Between the increasing prescription drug abuse epidemic and the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana in numerous states, many more people are driving under the influence of drugs.
Driving under the influence of drugs is a serious problem:
- One in 3 fatally injured drivers tested positive for medications or drugs, including prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as illegal drugs.[ii]
- Over 1 in 5 drivers tested positive for at least one drug that could impair driving skills.[iii]
- Drivers involved in fatal crashes who had used marijuana increased from 2% in 1999 to 12.2% in 2010.[iv]
- The prevalence of weekend nighttime drivers with THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) detected increased 48% from 2007 to 2014.[v]
- An estimated 17 to 27 percent of drunk drivers have also used drugs while driving.[vi],[vii].
- Marijuana is the most commonly combined drug with alcohol and those who drive drunk are more likely to also drive under the influence of marijuana.[viii]
Difficult to Enforce
Drugged driving is significantly different from drunk driving in terms of detection, enforcement and prosecution. When police do stop drivers or respond to a crash, it’s easier for them to use the standard field sobriety and breathalyzer tests to determine if a drunk driving arrest can be made (e.g. driver is above .08 Blood Alcohol Content) than to test for drugs. Even with crashes, many local and state jurisdictions do not test drivers for medications or illegal drugs unless there is a fatality, and states vary how they test and which substances are being tested.[ix],[x]. As a result, data on arrests, convictions, crashes and fatalities related to drugged driving do not accurately reflect the problem.
Additionally, there is no standard agreement on what constitutes impairment because there are too many medications, drugs and individual reactions to them. Identifying and prosecuting drugged driving is time consuming and costly: Not every area has a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) (officers trained to identify drugged drivers) and saliva, blood, or urine samples must be obtained for costly toxicology tests.
Getting a Clearer Picture
Because relatively little is understood about drugged driving, many driver education programs do not focus on it as they do for drunk driving. Addiction treatment and post-DUI education providers need to understand that a high percentage of those in an alcohol-related crash or arrested for drunk driving may have also been under the influence of medications and/or other drugs. Public awareness of the danger of drugged driving is needed through targeted and tailored messages for various demographic groups.[xi] State agencies and community-based programs focused on impaired driving or substance abuse prevention and treatment need data to provide accurate information about the risks associated with drugged driving.
To get there, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) contracted with Advocates for Human Potential, Inc. (AHP) and Carnevale Associates, LLC to develop a National Minimum Data Set on drugged driving. AHP and Carnevale are also working on a Drugged Driving Survey to assess attitudes and beliefs about drugged driving. Data collection and analysis should be complete by the end of 2016 and the survey will be nationally open in 2017.
This insight is needed to understand how we can collectively prevent drugged driving, and ultimately to save lives.
What are you doing to address drugged driving in your community? And what information would be helpful to know to better assess risk for drugged driving? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
[i] Berning, A., Compton, R., & Wochinger, K. (2015, February). Results of the 2013–2014 National Roadside Survey of alcohol and drug use by drivers. (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 812 118). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
[ii] U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). For drivers with known test results.
[iii] Berning, A., Compton, R., & Wochinger, K. (2015, February). Results of the 2013–2014 National Roadside Survey of alcohol and drug use by drivers. (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 812 118). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
[iv] Brady, J. E., & Li, G. (2014). Trends in alcohol and other drugs detected in fatally injured drivers in the United States, 1999–2010. American journal of epidemiology, 179(6), 692-699.
[v] Berning, A., Compton, R., & Wochinger, K. (2015). Results of the 2013–2014 National Roadside Survey of alcohol and drug use by drivers (No. DOT HS 812 118).
[vi] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, & National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2010). Drug involvement of fatally injured drivers. US Department of Transportation Report No. DOT HS, 811, 415.
[vii] Sparks, C. (2014, November). Drugged Driving: Examining the use of prescription medication among DUI offenders. In 142nd APHA Annual Meeting and Exposition (November 15-November 19, 2014). APHA.
[viii] Hartman, R. L., & Huestis, M. A. (2013). Cannabis effects on driving skills. Clinical chemistry, 59(3), 478-492.
[ix] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, & National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2010). Drug involvement of fatally injured drivers. US Department of Transportation Report No. DOT HS, 811, 415.
[x] Slater, M. E., Castle, I. J. P., Logan, B. K., & Hingson, R. W. (2016). Differences in state drug testing and reporting by driver type in US fatal traffic crashes. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 92, 122-129.
[xi] GAO. (February 2015). GAO-15-293. pp. 19, 30-31.