Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health in...

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Elijah Black is a Greenville, South Carolina native with a B.A. English from Coastal Carolina University. He is a fiction writer and also works as a freelance writer and editor. He’s worked as a Production Assistant for WYFF 4 and has been published in several publications and websites across the United States.

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Reviewed by Elijah Black
Lead Insurance Writer Elijah Black

UPDATED: Apr 1, 2021

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Is drugged driving really as menacing as it sounds? In a word: YES. While drinking and driving is most likely to make headlines, driving under the influence of drugs is also a serious problem affecting the nation.

What is Drugged Driving?
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Drugged driving is a variation on drunk driving that involves driving while impaired. Drugged driving means driving under the influence of any drug that acts on the brain [and] could impair one’s motor skills, reaction time, and judgment.

The unfortunate truth is that drugged driving puts not only you but other drivers and passengers on the road at risk every time you get behind the wheel. Believe it or not, drugged driving is becoming a common occurrence

2007 statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that more than 16% of drivers on the road at night on weekends tested positive for over-the-counter,

Yet drunk driving continues to take the spotlight time and again when it comes to public service announcements and national awareness campaigns. Yes, drunk driving is responsible for nearly 30 deaths a day. Both alcohol and drugs are estimated cause 16,000 out of the 42,000 fatal car crashes that occur annually in the US.

Consider some of the harmful effects of drugged driving below:

Males were 84% more likely to drive under the influence of drugs than females.

  • 10.5 million Americans reported driving under the influence of drugs
  • 18% of fatally injured drivers tested postive for drugs.
How Does a DUI Compare to Drugged Driving?

Clearly, DUIs and drugged driving are both major concerns on each and every roadway throughout the US. While neither practice is ever recommended, many drivers are under the misconception that drugged driving may be safer than drinking and driving.

To separate fact from fiction, driving drugged isn’t better than driving drunk, or vice versa.

Driving under the influence of any substance could be a matter of life and death. Even one slipup could cost you your life or the lives of those you love if they are riding as passengers in your vehicle.

Let’s explore the example of a popular drug like marijuana.

Marijuana will affect:
  • Reaction Time
  • Perception
  • Concentration
for up to 24 hours after smoking.

This means that if you smoke marijuana the night before and plan to drive to work in the morning, you will be driving under the influence of drugs. A drug like marijuana will affect your driving ability far longer than alcohol in your system.

Again, neither behavior is encouraged under any circumstance

As a bottom line, it’s important to remember that drugged driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. In 2009 alone, 10.5 million people drove with drugs in their system.

Driving under the influence of marijuana can be more dangerous than driving after several drinks.

Drugged Driving Beats Drunk Driving in California
A recent California survey put the act of drugged driving into perspective. The California Office of Traffic Safety confirmed that 14% of drivers tested positive for driving under the influence of prescription or illegal drugs. This compared to 7% of drivers under the influence of alcohol.

The federally funded driving impaired survey tested over 1300 drivers voluntarily through roadside breath and saliva sobriety tests. Survey results concluded that marijuana was the most popular “driving drug”, found in the system of 7.4% of drivers.

Driving-impaired Injury Statistics (Walsh, et al. 2005)
  • 4% Alcohol & Multiple Drugs
  • 12% Alcohol & One Drug
  • 9% Multiple Drugs
  • 15% Only Alcohol
  • 34% No Drugs or Alcohol
  • 26% One Drug
Are Roads Safe for Sober Drivers?

If you don’t fall into the category of a drugged or drunk driver, you may be wondering if it is safe to set foot behind the wheel ever again. While major awareness campaigns have swept the nation to curb instances of impaired driving, the problem remains prevalent.

30 million Americans continue to drive drunk, and 10 million Americans drive drugged each year.

Depending on the state, the number of drivers under the influence could rise as high as 20%. If you take a second to glance in the lane next to you on the highway

1 out of 5  cars that you see may contain a driver with alcohol or drugs in their system.

If you live in a state with a high drunk driving or drugged driving rate, you may not feel safe on the road. This is precisely why it is more important than ever before to bring awareness to the widespread trend of driving under the influence, whether driving drunk or driving drugged.

Read on to find out more about this hush-hush epidemic that could be affecting roadways in your very own town.

Behind Closed Doors: Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

In some states, instances of drugged driving have spiked within just a few years. The Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety confirms a whopping 4005 drugged driving arrests in 2012 compared to just 694 drugged driving arrests in 2008.

In four years, drugged driving arrests have more than quadrupled in the state of Arizona.

To paint a clearer picture, here are a few important facts to consider about this alarming national pastime:

From 2005-2009, 42% of fatally injured drivers under age 25 tested positive for marijuana. 1 in 8 nighttime, weekend drivers tested positive for illegal drugs.
  • 16.9% men were drugged
  • 3952 fatally injured drivers tested positive for drugs.
  • 23% of fatally injured drivers under age 25 tested positive for drugs.

Statistics from a Maryland trauma center confirmed:

  • 34% of crash victims under the influence of drugs
  • 16% of crash victims under the influence of alcohol
  • 6.3% Teen Drivers
  • 24.8% Young Adult Drivers

As you connect the dots, you may soon realize that younger drivers are more likely to drive with drugs in their system. Statistics estimated that 6.3% of teen drivers from ages 16 to 17 drove under the influence of alcohol or drugs in 2009. This number increased further to 24.8% among young adult drivers from ages 21 to 25. After the age of 25, drugged driving rates drop drastically.

Why are teen and young adult drivers so susceptible to driving under the influence of drugs?

*The percentage of 12th graders who have used these drugs in the past year.

  • 7.6% Vicodin
  • 7.5% cold medicines
  • 5.6% Tranqquilizers
  • 5.3% oxycontin
  • 4.3% Ritalin
  • 2.6% methaqualone/quaaludes
  • 0.4% marijuana
  • 36.4% Powder Cocaine
  • 2.7% Crack
  • 1.2% Methamphetamine
  • 1.1% Heroine
  • 0.6% Prescription Illicit Drugs

An increasing percentage of high school students are using prescription and over-the-counter drugs, beyond the popular drug choice of marijuana. 7.6% of 12th graders used Adderall in the past year, compared to 7.5% that used Vicodin and 5.6% that used cold medicine to get high.

These prescription drug use stats are still smaller than the amount of high school seniors that used marijuana at 36.4% – but they can’t be ignored. 12th grade students are now dabbling in a wider range of drugs that could affect their driving, like tranquilizers, OxyContin, and even Ritalin.

For this very purpose, Whitehouse.gov published this handbook. The handbook points out that while drugged driving is never recommended, driving under the influence of drugs may be an even greater risk for teens, who are considered inexperienced drivers.

Teen Drugged Driving

A sober teen is more likely to get into a crash than a sober adult. When you add to that the influence of drugs, whether it is marijuana, prescription pills, or over-the-counter cough medicine, the likelihood of a fatal crash for a teen driver increases considerably.

A teen that engages in drugged driving may experience delays or changes in:

  • Reaction Time
  • Perception
  • Cognition

These critical skills behind the wheel are essential to prevent a serious or fatal accident. Shockingly enough, one in eight high school seniors interviewed in 2011 admitted to driving after smoking marijuana within the past two weeks. This number was higher than those seniors that drove after consuming alcohol (11.6%).

It’s no wonder that the White House considers teen drugged driving a public health concern.

Prevention is key to keep teens sober and safe behind the wheel. The White House encourages both parent and youth outreach activities that will raise awareness of teen drugged driving, provide educational tools, offer tips and advice, and increase local media coverage to bring this dangerous issue to light.

The highest rate of drugged drivers across-the-board falls into the 18-25 age bracket, according to 2011 statistics. 11.6% of drivers in this age group have driven under the influence of drugs.

And speaking of dangers… It’s time to explore the hazards of drugged driving and how driving under the influence of drugs can affect your cognizance behind the wheel.

The Dangers of Drugged Driving

Marijuana, a drug that is slowly becoming legal in the US, is one of the most popular substances used by drugged drivers. However, just because marijuana may be legalized at a national level in the future doesn’t mean it is safe when paired with driving. In the same way that alcohol use must be monitored prior to driving, smoking marijuana should never be considered a “safe activity” before hitting the open road.

Other common drugs used by drivers include:
  1. Cocaine
  2. Meth (Methamphetamines/ amphetamines)
  3. Prescription drugs
  4. Over-the-counter drugs

Since marijuana is the most popular drug used behind the wheel, we’ll stick with that as an example. Although many drug users consider marijuana harmless, it can still impair driving significantly.
Marijuana affects your ability to drive soberly and safely by decreasing:
  • Alertness- May be difficult to pay attention or process a large amount of information at once.
  • Coordination- Can affect muscle and nerve responses to make it hard to steer, brake, accelerate, and control a vehicle.
  • Focus- Can affect the ability to maintain distance between vehicles or stay in a lane.
  • Perception-Can alter visual perception of light/dark images, glares, and dynamic acuity.
  • Reaction time-May slow or eliminate reaction time altogether.

As mentioned above, these side effects that can dangerously impair driving may last up to 24 hours after smoking marijuana.

Smoking marijuana can hurt your ability to:
  • Concentrate
  • Remember what you learned
  • Focus on projects or tasks
  • React quickly while driving
  • Perform in sports
  • Coordinate
As a rule of thumb, if any type of drug – legal or illegal – decreases your reaction time, it should not be taken before driving.

Similar to alcohol use, smoking marijuana before driving will make it hard to react to traffic signals or sudden changes on the road. It may be difficult to accurately judge distances between cars or other objects on the road, making it even easier to clip a car, pole, or fence to cause an accident.

If you are taking an over-the-counter or prescription medication, it’s critical to read warning labels in detail before you step foot in a car. Even if you only plan to go to the corner store to refill your prescription after getting your wisdom teeth out, that quick trip could be time enough to get into a serious accident – just a few miles from home.

Prescription medications like benzodiazepines and opiate-based pain relievers often have warning labels against driving under the influence of these drugs as they are known to affect the brain and impair driving ability. Other medication warning labels may caution against operating heavy machinery, which includes driving a car.

A fast, accurate reaction time behind the wheel could save your life. Driving alertness and coordination are critical to prevent you from causing a senseless accident that could have easily been prevented.

In a worst-case scenario, drugged driving could be responsible for your injury or death, as well as other passengers and drivers on the road. At “best”, you may be pulled over, arrested, and convicted of driving under the influence of drugs.

It is illegal to drive while impaired. In every state, drugged driving is considered a deadly crime. Charges for drugged driving will vary by state.
If you live in a state like Michigan, for example, you could be charged with:
  • Operating While Visibly Impaired (OWVI)- Driver cannot operate a motor vehicle due to alcohol or drug impairment.
  • Operating While Intoxicated (OWI)-Driver cannot operate a motor vehicle due to alcohol or drugs in the system.
  • Operating With Any Presence of a Schedule-1 Drug or Cocaine (OWPD)

Driver operating a motor vehicle with even a trace of illegal drugs in their system, confirmed in a chemical test.

  • Under Age 21 Operating With Any Bodily Alcohol
  • Content (Zero Tolerance)

Minor driver operating a motor vehicle with any presence of alcohol or drugs in their system. Make no mistake that in every state, law enforcement is on the lookout for drivers that may appear to be impaired.

According to police, a driver may exhibit warning signs on the road, like:

  1. Weaving in a lane
  2. Wandering from lane to lane
  3. Driving on the shoulder
  4. Stopping too slowly or too quickly Driving too slow or too fast
  5. Failing to obey traffic signs
  6. Driving on the wrong side of the road

1st drugged driving conviction will warrant a mandatory six month driver’s license suspension. Depending on special circumstances, a driver may be awarded a restricted license to drive to work and/or school after 30 days of suspension.
2ND drugged driving conviction– a driver will be required to spend five days to one year in jail or complete 30 to 90 days of community service. Multiple drugged driving convictions also mean a longer driver’s license suspension period or revocation altogether.
3RD drugged driving conviction-Will be considered a felony, as will any drugged driving convictions that cause death or serious injury to another person. Even one lapse in judgment is never worth the risk.
National Drugged Driving Awareness: How to Do Your Part

When it comes to drugged driving prevention, knowledge is power. As mentioned above, the White House advocates national awareness campaigns, like a Prevention Night among teens in local communities. A Prevention Night can be used to bring neighborhoods together to discuss the realities and dangers of drugged driving; the event may feature a guest speaker and provide take-home resource materials for all who attend.

Since teens are the highest risk group for drugged driving, many of these national crackdown campaigns focus on young drivers.

White House mission
Identify, Educate, and Prevent youth drugged driving through various activities like Prevention Night, as well as teen roundtable discussions and drugged driving poster contests at local schools.

National Impaired Driving Prevention Month in December.

December was designated as the ideal month to run this campaign since it is one of the busiest and most dangerous times of the year to travel throughout the US. MADD estimates that 25 people were killed per day in drunk driving accidents in December 2010 alone.

Each year, December is used to raise awareness about driving impaired under the influence of alcohol or drugs. President Obama supports this campaign as a way to teach all citizens to “make responsible decisions and take appropriate measures to prevent impaired driving.”

The Obama Administration recognizes the seriousness of drugged driving. In partnership with National Impaired Driving Prevention Month in December, President Obama has made a goal to reduce instances of drugged driving by 10% by 2015. Obama’s nationwide approach includes a focus on law enforcement training, increased public awareness, and better roadside drug screening in the hopes of making drugged driving a thing of the past.
Department of Transportation supports the Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, or DEC. This campaign is designed to provide support for state and local departments to detect and arrest drugged drivers that may pose a danger on roadways; the program also offers training for prosecutors and judges to handle drugged driving conviction cases more effectively.

You can do your part to put an end to drugged driving by participating in any of the activities listed above.
You can also make a difference by reaching out to friends or family members who are at risk for driving under the influence of drugs and making a personal commitment to never drive drugged yourself.

Throughout the US, there are several important steps we can take to put an
end to drugged driving – if we all work together:

Public awareness and prevention campaigns
  • Promote zero-tolerance policies for drugged/impaired driving.
  • Driver education-help new drivers understand the grave dangers of drugged driving, as well as the consequences.
  • Parents as role models- teach young drivers by example that drugged driving is never acceptable, under any circumstance.
  • Teen driver monitoring-limit risky behaviors that could increase the risk of an accident, such as texting and driving, nighttime driving, and impaired driving.
  • Responsible prescription drug use-encouragement for patients to always read prescription drug labels carefully and avoid contraindications, such as mixing prescription meds with other drugs or alcohol.

The importance of drugged driving awareness
In many homes and communities, drugged driving may be a taboo topic.
However, as we work together to bring awareness to this national issue, more and more families and individuals can open up about their struggles with driving under the influence of drugs.
Most drivers today are familiar with drunk driving awareness. Nonetheless, drugged driving is a topic that should be given equal importance since it is becoming more prevalent and even popular among young drivers.
A boy died in drugged driving accident. Driving impaired is driving impaired, no matter how you slice it.
Whether you are under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or legal drugs, you should never consider stepping foot behind the wheel until you are sober.
Thinking “just this once” or neglecting to read a drug warning label carefully is enough to land you in a world of trouble. Driving drugged is a public safety threat that could result in jail time or cost you or a loved one your life.


  • “DrugFacts: Drugged Driving | National Institute on Drug Abuse.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Web. 25 July 2013.
  • “National Drunk and Drugged Driving Prevention Month | Visual.ly.” Infographics & Data Visualization | Visual.ly. Web. 25 July 2013.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2010). Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. Summary of National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-38A, HHS Publication No. SMA 10-4856Findings). Rockville, MD.
  • “Drugged driving bigger problem in California than drunk driving – San Jose Mercury News.” Home – San Jose Mercury News. Web. 25 July 2013.
  • Reinberg, Steven. “40 Million in U.S. Driving Drunk or Drugged – US News and World Report.” Health News Articles – US News Health. Web. 25 July 2013.
  • “Drugged Driving | The White House.” The White House. Web. 25 July 2013.
  • “Teen Drugged Driving.” www.whitehouse.gov. Web. 26 July 2013.

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