Drugged Driving is Becoming More Common Than Drunk Driving

Drugged driver.

Did you know that, when a person uses drugs and then gets behind the wheel of a car, they increase their risk of being in a fatal car crash by more than three-hundred percent? A harsh statistic to swallow, but one we all need to be very willing to look at. We also need to be very willing to see that drugged driving statistics are on the rise. According to the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, drugged driving is becoming a contender for the top cause of driving fatalities in the United States.

But that’s not all.

Further research also goes on to indicate that, when a person uses drugs and alcohol in tandem, their odds of being involved in a fatal car accident increase by twenty-three times. With the rise of prescription drug abuse and the rampant legalization of marijuana, increased drugged driving is a real concern for the U.S. According to the Columbia University, drug use is a factor in thirty-two percent of fatal car accidents on an annual basis.

Driver under marijuana influence.

Of drivers tested in autopsy reports (or pre-incarceration if those drivers simply caused a fatality and were not themselves killed), it was found that the most likely substance to be present in a car accident was a depressant drug. This could be heroin, a bevy of prescription drugs, etc. In addition to that though, thousands of drivers also test positive for stimulants, narcotics, marijuana, and hallucinogenics. The bottom line is that no type of drug use is safe to partake in and then get behind the wheel of a car afterwards.

Alcohol Still Holds the Forward Position

According to the Columbia University’s research, alcohol consumption is found in fifty-seven percent of fatal crashes. Good lord. This means that the vast majority of vehicle fatalities in this country are caused by some form of substance abuse. With drug use prevalent in thirty-two percent of driving fatalities, alcohol is still the more lethal of the two, but drugged driving is climbing, and rapidly too.

If drugged driving statistics continue to progress on their given path, within the next few years, drugged driving fatalities will surpass alcohol driving statistics, at least in terms of fatalities. These numbers bring with them added concern, as incidences of drugged driving are growing far more rapidly than alcohol-impaired driving is. In fact, alcohol-related driving has been so heavily policed and so heavily focused on that drugged driving has essentially been allowed to creep up almost unchallenged. Alcohol-impaired driving is still more common, but that could change pretty quickly.

Accorded to study leader Dr. Guohua Li, a professor of epidemiology:

“The possible interaction of drugs in combination with alcohol on driving safety has long been a concern. While alcohol-impaired driving remains the greatest threat to traffic safety, these findings of drugged driving are particularly salient in light of the increases in the availability of prescription stimulants and opioids over the past decade.”

Reducing Drugged Driving

Driver holding the drugs.

The main reasons why we are seeing more drugged driving cropping up is because of increased marijuana legalization and increased prescription drug abuse. If states are going to legalize marijuana, they need to exert the same effort on policing marijuana-impaired driving as they do on alcohol-impaired driving. And as for prescription drugs, this is another story entirely.

Prescription drugs are hardly effective enough to be worth it, particularly with opioid painkillers. It’s time to discontinue and eventually get rid of prescription drugs that have addiction and impairment potential.

As depressing as the above statistics may be, let’s take heart, as friends and community members, that if we as a nation were able to reduce drunk driving fatalities in years past, we can do the same thing with drugged driving fatalities.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.