Why Is Drugged Driving Dangerous?

Drugged driving is as dangerous as drunk driving, and involves operating a vehicle with diminished capacity due to substance use intoxication. Drugged driving is impaired driving, and places the driver, along with any passengers, at great risk. The statistics on drugged driving are alarming and eye-opening. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2016 over 21 million people over the age of 16 drove under the influence of alcohol, and over 12 million people drove under the influence of illicit drugs.

DUI/DWI Arrests Don’t Discriminate

The survey revealed that men are more likely to drive under the influence of any substance versus women and that both genders between the ages of 21 to 25 are more likely to drive after using substances than individuals aged 16 to 20, or over age 26. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, in 2016 44% of traffic fatalities involved drivers who tested positive for drugs, and over half of those drivers were positive for two or more drugs.

One study of licensed college students discovered that nearly 20% had driven under the influence of a drug (not including alcohol) at least once in the previous 12 months. Researchers found that marijuana was the most commonly used drug, with cocaine and prescription pain relievers coming in second place.

Tolerance Is Individual

It’s impossible to gauge how any one drug will affect different individuals. What is known is that the adverse effects are compounded and complicated when alcohol or other substances are combined. For example, alcohol use can decrease several critical skills and abilities such as concentration, coordination, and the ability to track moving objects, at the same time making it more difficult to steer and stay within one’s lane. It can also cause drowsiness. Conversely, cocaine or methamphetamine can lead to a greater risk of aggressive or reckless driving. On the other hand, marijuana impacts cognitive functions and psychomotor skills such as distance perception, reaction time, drowsiness, coordination, vigilance, and lane tracking. Using alcohol with marijuana results in even greater levels of impairment.

Marijuana is the second most common drug found in the blood of impaired drivers after a crash, with alcohol the number one drug. Even more concerning, several studies have found that drivers with marijuana present in their blood were up to two times as likely to be killed or be at fault for a fatal crash than drivers who hadn’t used drugs or alcohol. Prescription drugs are frequently implicated in drugged driving crashes. In 2016, nearly 20% of drivers under the influence had used some type of opioid. Driving while under the influence of opioids can result in dizziness, drowsiness, and significantly impaired judgment. Some studies have demonstrated that driving under the influence of opioids can actually double the risk of being in a crash.

Which age groups are most affected by drugged driving? 

Teens and mature drivers are the two groups most affected by drugged driving. This is because teenagers do not have a great deal of driving experience, which increases the risk that they will not recognize, or may underestimate, dangerous conditions. This group also shows a greater propensity to speed and to leave a smaller distance between vehicles. When substance use collides with a lack of driving experience, the results can be catastrophic: Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among people 16 to 19 years of age.

Different factors account for the issues correlated to drugged driving in older adults. For example, ingesting a prescription drug in the wrong amount can affect the mental aptitude of mature adults. This is because medications may take longer to break down in older adults, leading to impaired function if too much medication is present. The reality is that even a small amount of some drugs can have a major impact on function, which is why zero-tolerance laws for drugged driving have been enacted in some states. In some cases, a drugged driver may face driving under the influence charges if any drug, even in a minuscule amount, is present in the urine or blood. In the meantime, many other states are in the process of developing similar laws.

Planning = Prevention

Drugged driving is a dangerous, potentially deadly activity. It can result in the loss of your driving license and driving privileges. Luckily, there are many steps you can take to ensure that this behavior stays out of your repertoire and outside of your social circle. Individuals who use drugs and/or alcohol should develop social plans which prevent getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated. The saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” applies here. These strategies are simple and based on common sense–the key is to be ready to use them if and when the time arises. Experts recommend that if you are concerned that a loved one is in a position to use alcohol or drugs while driving, that you discuss strategies ahead of time in order to prevent drugged driving from happening in the first place. First of all, identify and use a designated driver. Alternately, discuss the drugged driving risks with your friends in advance. 

There simply is no way around it: Driving under the influence of drugs such as marijuana, opioids, and prescription medications are every bit as dangerous as driving while drinking. All of these substances impair one’s ability to operate a vehicle, and can significantly cloud your judgment while driving.  

Many young adults find the transition to college life overwhelming, and some may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope.  Unfortunately, this behavior can affect mental health and academic performance and may lead to addiction. If you believe you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, now is the time to reach out for help. At Burning Tree West, you will find a team of compassionate, knowledgeable professionals who specialize in helping young adults struggling with addiction and their families. Here, our clients tackle their addictions head-on and harness the power to restructure their lives in a way that fosters lasting sobriety. We believe that practicing recovery doesn’t have to mean an end to educational or career goals, but instead can become a fundamental part of a successful and fulfilling life. For more information on how we can help, call us now at 972-962-7374.