Drunk Driving Is Declining, But Drugged Driving Is on the Rise

By May Wilkerson 02/10/15

More people are hitting the road under the influence of weed or prescription drugs.

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Though drunk driving seems to be slowing down, more people are hitting the roads high on pot or prescription drugs, according to two new reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The rate of driving under the influence of alcohol has declined by nearly a third since 2007, one report found. But almost one in four people on the road tested positive for marijuana or prescription drugs, according to a 2014 survey.

“The latest roadside survey raises significant questions about drug use and highway safety,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “The rising prevalence of marijuana and other drugs is a challenge to everyone who is dedicated to saving lives and reducing crashes.”

The findings were based on a survey, taken every five years, whereby drivers can volunteer to pull over at an anonymous data-collection site. In 2014, the survey found that about 8% of people driving on weekend nights had booze in their system, and a little over 1% were above the legal limit. This was a 30% drop from the rate in 2007, and an 80% decrease since the first survey was taken in 1973.

But 20% of drivers had drugs in their system on a weekend night in 2014, up from 16.3% in 2007. And the rate of driving under the influence of pot had nearly doubled.

The correlation between marijuana use and accidents remains uncertain. NHTSA did find that drivers who used marijuana were at a higher risk of car accidents, but they also noted that pot use is most common among young men, who are already a group at higher risk of an accident.

“The combined message of these two surveys is that our work to understand and combat drunk driving is paying off,” said Rosekind said, “but that we have much to learn about how illegal drugs and prescription medicines affect highway safety—and that developing that knowledge is urgent, because more and more drivers have these drugs in their systems.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.