Driving Under the Influence of Pot and Prescription Drugs is on the Rise

drivingAmericans on the road no longer have drunken drivers as their only safety concern.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that based on two new studies, the past decade shows a decrease in drunken driving.  At the same time, there has been an increase in incidents of driving while under the influence of pot, or prescription drugs.

Our Driving Future

Washington D.C., Alaska and Oregon will be voting in November on the issue of legalizing recreational marijuana.  If voters cast their votes in favor of legalization, these states will follow suit with Colorado and Washington state.  As a consequence, the potential for drugged driving grows.

The 2014 Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers, released by NHSTA on February 6th of this year, reveals that since 2007, those driving with alcohol in their system decreased by one-third.  In comparison, drivers testing positive for drugs capable of interfering with their driving increased to almost 1-in-4.

The NHTSA data was collected from 300 roadside survey sites across the nation.  The survey was voluntary; drivers were paid for their time, and assured the collected data remained anonymous.

Night-time weekend hours found 8.3 percent of surveyed drivers to have alcohol in their system, with 1.5 percent having above the legal limit.  This was a 30 percent decrease since a similar 2007 survey.

Drivers evidencing drugs–both legal and illegal–in their system jumped from a 2007 percentage of 16.3 to 20 percent in 2014.

Marijuana positive drivers markedly increased from 2007 at 8.6 percent to 12.6 percent in 2014.

Drivers specifically with marijuana in their systems climbed from 8.6 percent of the group in 2007 to 12.6 percent in 2014.

Another NHTSA study conducted in Virginia on upwards of 9,000 drivers analyzed the link between crashes—and marijuana usage.  It revealed marijuana users were 25 percent more likely to be involved in a crash.  The NHTSA study also showed-up the fact that this was also part of an already crash-prone group—that of young men.

Factors to Consider

According to Gordon Trowbridge, NHTSA spokesman, once the demographic factors were controlled, marijuana users were not found to have a “significantly higher crash risk” compared to those not having marijuana in their system.  Necessary to take into account, also, is the fact that NHTSA could not control factors such as marijuana potency, or quantities ingested.

Another factor to consider is the impaired drivers who may not have stopped at the voluntary roadside survey sites, regardless of the assurances of anonymity or the pay.

Trowbridge acknowledged it definitely being a factor, but pointing out that a long history of survey data having the same limiting factor will show-up trends.  Trends can be compared over time.

He concedes that it can’t be known with certainty the number of impaired drivers who bypass the survey sites.  He notes, though, that it is known that once drivers enter the survey site, even if impaired, they are very likely to participate.

Trowbridge further explained that NHTSA survey researchers offer impaired drivers a hotel room for the night, or a ride home with no legal trouble.  In their four decades of surveying, NHTSA reports that no drunken driver has every driven away from one of their roadside survey sites.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), 85 percent of Americans support marijuana-impairment laws.  Close to 50 percent of Americans think drugged driving today is worse than three years ago.  Federal research finds that for up to three hours following its use, pot is capable of impairing driver performance.