A federal agency credits the decades-long campaign to combat drunk driving for the drop in alcohol-impaired drivers. But the question remains: What’s causing the increase in drugged drivers?
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s latest National Roadside Survey shows declines in drunk driving but an increase in use of marijuana and prescription drugs on the nation’s roadways.
The survey found the number of drivers with alcohol in their system has declined by nearly one-third since 2007 and by more than three-quarters since 1973.
However, the same study found a large increase in the number of drivers using marijuana or other illegal drugs. Nearly one in four drivers tested positive for at least one drug that could affect safety.
Some other findings:
- About 1.5% of weekend nighttime drivers had breath alcohol concentrations at or above the .08 legal limit; this decreased by 80% since 1973.
- 8.3% had any measurable amount of alcohol in their systems; this number dropped 77% since 1973.
- The proportion of nighttime weekend drivers with illegal drugs in their systems was 15.2% in the current survey. That’s up from 12% in 2007.
- The percentage of total drug-positive nighttime weekend drivers increased from 16.3% in 2007 to 20% in 2013/14.
- The drug showing the greatest increase from 2007 to 2013/14 was marijuana, from 8.6% in 2007 to 12.6% in 2013/14. That’s a proportional increase of 47%.
Second survey: Crash risk
NHTSA also released the results of a second study on the crash risk associated with alcohol and drug use by drivers.
The study found both alcohol and marijuana use by drivers were clearly associated with a higher risk of a crash:
- Drivers with a .08 or higher breath alcohol concentration had about 4 times the risk of crashing as sober drivers.
- Drivers with alcohol levels at .15 or higher had 12 times the risk.
- Marijuana users were about 25% more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers without evidence of pot use, but the increased risk may be due in part because marijuana users are more likely to be in a group at higher risk of crashes: young men.
“The combined message of these two surveys is that our work to understand and combat drunk driving is paying off,” said NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind, “but that we have much to learn about how illegal drugs and prescription medicines affect highway driving.”
NHTSA plans more studies, including the Washington State Roadside Survey, which will assess risk in a state where marijuana has recently been legalized.
Do you think that the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana use has contributed to the increase in drugged drivers? What’s the impact of all this, particularly for employees who drive for work? Let us know in the comments.