1 out of 5 of drivers on the road are driving while high
In February, 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) released Results of the 2013-2014 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers. Participation in the survey was voluntary and anonymous. About 20% of participating drivers tested positive for at least one drug as compared to 16.3% in the 2007 survey. And while alcohol use is more prevalent on weekend nights, the numbers for those testing positive for drugs was consistent in both weekday daytime and weekend nighttime drivers, although the types of drugs found in daytime and nighttime drivers were different.
Medications During the Day, Illegal Drugs at Night
First, we need to clarify some terms. In the survey, “medications” refers to prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs with the potential to impair driving skills. Marijuana is categorized as an “illegal drug”, not a medication, regardless of whether participants were using it with a prescription, to keep things simple and maintain the ability to compare between surveys. Also, there is no distinction between prescription drugs that were acquired legally or illegally.
The combined total of illegal drug and medication users was almost exactly the same during the day on weekdays as weekend nights.
A higher percentage of drivers tested positive for illegal drugs than medications in both the weekday daytime and weekend nighttime tests. However, fewer drivers tested positive for medications on weekend nights than during the day on weekdays, whereas the opposite was true of illegal drugs.
Both medication and illegal drug use were up in 2013-2014 as compared to 2007.
More Drivers Tested Positive in 2013-2014
There were some differences in the tests used in 2007 and 2013-2014, but even after making adjustments in the 2013-2014 data necessary for direct comparison, more drivers tested positive for drugs in 2013-2014:
- Medication users rose from 3.9% in 2007 to 4.9% in 2013-2014
- Illegal drug users rose from 12.4% in 2007 to 15.1% in 2013-2014
- Overall nighttime weekend drivers testing positive for drugs rose from 16.3% in 2007 to 20% in 2013-2014
- Weekend nighttime drivers who tested positive for THC rose from 8.6% in 2007 to 12.6% in 2013-2014, a 48% increase
What Does it Mean?
Simply put, it means we are radically underequipped to deal with the reality of drivers today. As mentioned in the notes on the survey results, “drug presence does not necessarily imply impairment.” We have honed alcohol testing to the point that we can fairly accurately determine impairment based on breath and blood concentrations, but “drugs” are more complicated. Just for starters, each drug is different in how it works in the body, how it is processed, and what exactly needs to be detected in order to determine if someone is impaired.
We do know that our current test for THC only tell us if someone has used marijuana in the last month or so, not if they are currently impaired. With the primary emphasis being on enforcing drunk driving laws for the last three decades, the motivation to develop meaningful testing for other drug impairment has not been in the forefront. With the current trend in legalization, better tests for marijuana impairment will probably be next. But what about the hundreds of other drugs that affect drivers? Meaningful tests are not likely anytime soon.
If you have been injured by a drugged driver, you can learn more about your rights and how you can recover damages for your losses by searching our directory to find a lawyer near you.