Which Drug Accounts for the Most Drugged Driving Accidents?

Last Updated: November 2, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Driving under the influence of drugs can cause impaired judgment, decreased coordination and a delayed reaction time, leading to serious driving accidents or even death.

Drugs and alcohol can severely impact a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle safely. Many people still get behind the wheel while under the influence, which can lead to crashes, injuries and even death. But which drug accounts for the most drugged driving accidents, and how can drugged driving be prevented?

What Is Drugged Driving?

Drugged driving refers to operating motor vehicles while under the influence of drugs. Many drugs can affect a person’s ability to drive by:

  • Slowing reaction time
  • Impairing judgment
  • Causing drowsiness
  • Decreasing coordination
  • Increasing recklessness

A person under the influence of drugs may not realize they are impaired. Deciding not to drive while being affected by substances is the responsible and safe choice.

Drugged Driving Statistics

According to the SAMHSA 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 10.3% of the U.S. population has driven under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at least once in the past year. This equates to over 26 million people.

Certain groups were found to drive under the influence more commonly than others. For instance:

  • The percentage of people aged 21–25 who drove under the influence was 16.7%.
  • The percentage of men who drove under the influence was 10%, compared to 7.9% of women.
  • The highest ethnic group was the white population, with 12.2% of people driving under the influence.
  • Drugged driving was most prevalent in the Midwest, with 13.1% of people driving under the influence.

Although only one in 10 people drive under the influence in any given year, alcohol was implicated in 37.9% of driving accidents that were fatal to drivers, and marijuana and opioids were involved in 43.6%.

Common Drugs Involved in Drugged Driving Accidents

More than one in seven people in the U.S. lives with a substance use disorder each year, and drugged driving is unfortunately common. Drugged driving is so prevalent and harmful that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) considers it one of the 11 key diagnostic criteria for diagnosing a substance use disorder.

Determining which substances are involved in drugged driving accidents isn’t always straightforward. Not every drug has a reliable field sobriety test, and an accident doesn’t always result in an immediate drug test. Even if a driver who caused an accident is tested for drugs, the drug may have already left their system, even if they were intoxicated while driving.

That said, substantial research investigates the effects of specific drugs and how they impact a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle. Some drugs are more commonly implicated in drugged driving accidents and can affect a person’s driving ability.

Alcohol

Alcohol is the most used drug in the U.S. Recent survey data shows that 68.2% of adults in the U.S. drink alcohol each year, and more than half have consumed alcohol in the past month. Tragically, 11,654 people died due to drunk driving accidents in 2020.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that can impact a person’s ability to drive a vehicle safely. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration lists four key areas where alcohol can impede a person’s ability to drive safely:

  1. Judgment: Decades of research have shown that alcohol can negatively affect decision-making skills. This can lead people to believe they can drive when intoxicated and impair their ability to make safe driving decisions while on the road.
  2. Vision: Alcohol intoxication can lead to blurry and double vision and a slowed ability to focus. This can cause people to swerve through lanes, not see obstacles in the road and potentially drive off the road.
  3. Color Distinction: On the road, colored signals and signs provide crucial information for driving safety. Alcohol can reduce a person’s ability to differentiate colors, making them misinterpret safety warnings and signs.
  4. Reaction Time: Alcohol can slow your reaction time to dangerous roadway events. This loss of alertness could lead to a crash and potentially death.

While the legal limit for alcohol intoxication is a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, even a small amount of alcohol can begin to lead to several of these impairments.

Marijuana

After alcohol, marijuana is the second most used substance in the U.S. and the second most detected drug in blood tests of drivers involved in accidents.

Researchers have found several effects of marijuana that impair a person’s ability to drive, including:

  • Slowed reaction time
  • Decreased motor coordination for up to three hours
  • Impaired time and distance estimation

Simply put, driving under the influence of marijuana is never safe.

Amphetamines

Amphetamines include prescription drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta and illicit drugs such as methamphetamine. As central nervous system stimulants, these drugs can promote wakefulness, give users a feeling of restless energy, and keep them awake for days. They can also increase the likelihood of reckless and aggressive driving behaviors.

Additionally, people recovering from an amphetamine binge are often hit by a wave of fatigue, which could also impact their driving ability.

Prescription Opioids

Prescription opioids include OxyContin, VicodinPercocet, Lortab and morphine. While these drugs contain labels warning people not to operate heavy machinery while they are used, they are still implicated in a sizable percentage of fatal vehicle accidents.

According to one recent meta-analysis, using prescription opioids while driving can double the risk of having a motor vehicle accident. Opioids can have several effects that impair driving ability, including:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired cognition
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Reduced concentration

Even if taken as prescribed, it is never safe to use prescription opioids while driving.

Other Drugs

Nearly every drug can negatively impact a person’s driving ability. Other drugs that are commonly implicated in drugged driving accidents include:

Using these drugs before operating a motor vehicle can put your life and the lives of others in serious danger.

How To Prevent Drugged Driving

There are several ways to prevent drugged driving. Just a few simple tips include:

  • Calling a taxi or ride-sharing service
  • Appointing a designated driver
  • Taking an intoxicated person’s keys away from them
  • Ensuring your keys will be inaccessible if you plan to use a substance
  • Waiting for the effects of drugs to wear off before operating a motor vehicle

It’s important to look out for yourself and others when driving is a possibility.

New Jersey Drugged Driving Laws & Consequences

In New Jersey, drugged driving can bring serious legal consequences. You can be convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI) any time your blood alcohol concentration is over 0.08% or under 0.08% and your driving ability has been impaired. Driving under the influence of any drug, including marijuana, amphetamines or opioids, is considered DWI.

For your first offense, you can be:

  • Charged a fine of up to $400
  • Imprisoned for up to 30 days
  • Charged an insurance surcharge of $1,000 per year for three years
  • Forced to forfeit your license until an ignition interlock device is installed

Repeat offenders face increasingly severe consequences. You can be imprisoned for up to 180 days for your third offense and lose your license for eight years.

Legal consequences can be far more severe if you have an accident while driving under the influence, especially if the accident harms or kills someone else.

Find Drug Addiction Treatment in New Jersey

The best way to ensure you don’t drive intoxicated is to get help overcoming your substance use disorder. Reach out to The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Copper to speak to our helpful admissions team.

Sources

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Chihuri, Stanford, and Guohua Li. “Use of prescription opioids and motor ve[…]gt; analysis.” Accident Analysis & Prevention, December 2017. Accessed August 30, 2022.

American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Men[…]ers: DSM-5-TR”. 2013. Accessed August 30, 2022.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drugged Driving DrugFacts.”>” December 31, 2019. Accessed August 30, 2022.

Governors Highway Safety Association. “Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and Opi[…]es for States.” Accessed August 30, 2022.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Drunk Driving”>.” Accessed August 30, 2022.

Gustavsen, Ingebjørg, et al. “Impairment related to blood amphetamine […]gged drivers.” Accident Analysis & Prevention, May 2006. Accessed August 30, 2022.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Section 2 PE Tables – Results from the[…]tailed Tables.” Accessed August 30, 2022.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Section 5 PE Tables – Results from the[…]tailed Tables.” Accessed August 30, 2022.

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Wilson, Fernando A., et al. “Fatal Crashes from Drivers Testing Posit[…] 1993–2010.” Public Health Reports, 2014. Accessed August 30, 2022.

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