While drunk driving continues to decline, marijuana and prescription drug
use behind the wheel is on the rise, according to a new report from the
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The report relays the finding of the latest version of NHTSA’s
Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers, which collects data from 300 roadside sites across the country. The survey
was first conducted in 1973 to study alcohol impairment. Drivers were
tested for the presence of illegal drugs, prescription medicines, and
over-the-counter drugs in 2007.
The latest survey revealed that drinking and driving is falling. In 2014,
about 1.5 percent of weekend nighttime drivers had a breath alcohol concentrations
of .08 or higher. Overall, the proportion of drivers with measurable alcohol
levels dropped by approximately 30 percent from 2007 to 2014. Since the
first survey was conducted in 1973, the prevalence of alcohol among drivers
has declined by nearly 80 percent.
Unfortunately, the good news about drunk driving is tempered by an uptick
in drug-related impairment. Approximately 20 percent of drivers tested
positive for at least one drug in 2014, up from 16.3 percent in 2007.
More specifically, the proportion of nighttime weekend drivers with illegal
drugs in their systems was 15.2 percent in 2013/2014 while the proportion
with prescription or over-the-counter medications that could affect driving
was 7.3 percent.
“[A] one-third reduction in alcohol use over just seven years shows
how a focused effort and cooperation among the federal government, states
and communities, law enforcement, safety advocates and industry can make
an enormous difference,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said in a
press statement. “At the same time, the latest Roadside Survey raises significant
questions about drug use and highway safety. The rising prevalence of
marijuana and other drugs is a challenge to everyone who is dedicated
to saving lives and reducing crashes.”
The findings of the latest NHTSA study echo those of a
2012 drugged driving study that focused exclusively on California. It found that, when looking at
drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2010 in California,
30 percent tested positive for legal and/or illegal drugs. Taken together,
the studies highlight the need for additional enforcement and awareness
campaigns targeting drugged drivers.