Efforts Continue to Address Drugged Driving, But Is It Enough?

A growing body of research is confirming what law enforcement officers and traffic safety experts have suspected for years: that many licit, illicit, and over-the-counter drugs impair a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle. Much of this research has involved laboratory or experimental studies using driving simulators, although some epidemiological studies have examined the effect of drugs on crash prevalence and risk. While data focusing on the danger of driving under the influence (DUI) caused by alcohol is readily available, and often cited, less is known or discussed about the dangers associated with DUI caused by drugs other than alcohol.

DUI is an issue that crosses all segments of society and endangers everyone using U.S. roadways. For many years traffic safety professionals throughout the United States have focused primarily on alcohol-impaired driving, which is responsible for an alarming percentage of traffic deaths each year. In recent years, great strides have been made to combat drunk driving and as a result, many lives have been saved. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently reported that U.S. alcohol-related fatalities once again declined 2.5 percent from 2010 to 2011;1 however, at the same time, drugs other than alcohol or mixed in combination with alcohol, have become more prevalent in impaired driving fatal crashes. In a recent study, researchers looked at four types of fatal crashes from 14 states and determined that approximately 25 percent of the drivers in those crashes tested positive for drugs.2 This study, which was one of the first to show the prevalence of drug use among fatally injured drivers, provides further evidence of a link between drug use and fatal crashes.