Drugged driving is driving a vehicle while impaired due to the intoxicating effects of recent drug use. It can make driving a car unsafe—just like driving after drinking alcohol. Drugged driving puts the driver, passengers, and others who share the road at serious risk.
Why is drugged driving dangerous?
The effects of specific drugs on driving skills differ depending on how they act in the brain. For example, marijuana can slow reaction time, impair judgment of time and distance, and decrease coordination. Drivers who have used cocaine or methamphetamine can be aggressive and reckless when driving. Certain kinds of prescription medicines, including benzodiazepines and opioids, can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and impair cognitive functioning (thinking and judgment). All of these effects can lead to vehicle crashes.
Research studies have shown negative effects of marijuana on drivers, including an increase in lane weaving, poor reaction time, and altered attention to the road. Use of alcohol with marijuana makes drivers more impaired, causing even more lane weaving.1–3 Some studies report that opioids can cause drowsiness and impair thinking and judgment.4,5 Other studies have found that being under the influence opioids while driving can double your risk of having a crash.6
It is difficult to determine how specific drugs affect driving because people tend to mix various substances, including alcohol. But we do know that even small amounts of some drugs can have a measurable effect. As a result, some states have zero-tolerance laws for drugged driving. This means a person can face charges for driving under the influence (DUI) if there is any amount of drug in the blood or urine. Many states are waiting to develop laws until research can better define blood levels that indicate impairment, such as those they use with alcohol.
Read more about other commonly misused drugs that can effect driving.
How many people take drugs and drive?
According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2021, 13.5 million people aged 16 or older drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year and 11.7 million drove under the influence of selected illicit drugs, including marijuana (2021 DT 8.33A).*7
The survey also showed that men are more likely than women to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A higher percentage of adults aged 21 to 25 (15.0%) drive after taking drugs or drinking than do young adults aged 16 to 20 (7.5%) or adults 26 or older (7.7%) (2021 DT 8.33B).*7
Which drugs are linked to drugged driving?
After alcohol, marijuana is the drug most often found in the blood of drivers involved in crashes. Tests for detecting marijuana in drivers measure the level of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s mind-altering ingredient, in the blood. But the role that marijuana plays in crashes is often unclear. THC can be detected in body fluids for days or even weeks after use, and it is often combined with alcohol. The vehicle crash risk associated with marijuana in combination with alcohol, cocaine, or benzodiazepines appears to be greater than that for each drug by itself.1,8
Several studies have shown that drivers with THC in their blood were roughly twice as likely to be responsible for a deadly crash or be killed than drivers who hadn't used drugs or alcohol.8–10 However, a large NHTSA study found no significant increased crash risk traceable to marijuana after controlling for drivers’ age, gender, race, and presence of alcohol.11 More research is needed.
Along with marijuana, prescription drugs are also commonly linked to drugged driving crashes. In 2016, 19.7 percent of drivers who drove while under the influence tested positive for some type of opioid.12
How often does drugged driving cause crashes?
It's hard to measure how many crashes are caused by drugged driving. This is because:
- a good roadside test for drug levels in the body doesn't yet exist
- some drugs can stay in your system for days or weeks after use, making it difficult to determine when the drug was used, and therefore, how and if it impaired driving
- police don't usually test for drugs if drivers have reached an illegal blood alcohol level because there's already enough evidence for a DUI charge
- many drivers who cause crashes are found to have both drugs and alcohol or more than one drug in their system, making it hard to know which substance had the greater effect
Effects of Commonly Misused Drugs on Driving
Marijuana affects psychomotor skills and cognitive functions critical to driving including vigilance, drowsiness, time and distance perception, reaction time, divided attention, lane tracking, coordination, and balance.
Opioids can cause drowsiness and can impair cognitive function.
Alcohol can reduce coordination, concentration, ability to track moving objects and reduce response to emergency driving situations as well as difficulty steering and maintaining lane position. It can also cause drowsiness.
However, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 43.6 percent of fatally injured drivers in 2016 tested positive for drugs and over half of those drivers were positive for two or more drugs.13
What populations are especially affected by drugged driving?
Teen and older adult drivers are most often affected by drugged driving. Teens are less experienced and are more likely than other drivers to underestimate or not recognize dangerous situations. They are also more likely to speed and allow less distance between vehicles. When lack of driving experience is combined with drug use, the results can be tragic. Car crashes are the leading cause of death among young people aged 16 to 19 years.14
A study of college students with access to a car found that 1 in 6 had driven under the influence of a drug other than alcohol at least once in the past year. Marijuana was the most common drug used, followed by cocaine and prescription pain relievers.15
Mental decline in older adults can lead to taking a prescription drug more or less often than they should or in the wrong amount. Older adults also may not break down the drug in their system as quickly as younger people. These factors can lead to unintended intoxication while behind the wheel of a car.
What steps can people take to prevent drugged driving?
Because drugged driving puts people at a higher risk for crashes, public health experts urge people who use drugs and alcohol to develop social strategies to prevent them from getting behind the wheel of a car while impaired. Steps people can take include:
- offering to be a designated driver
- appointing a designated driver to take all car keys
- getting a ride to and from parties where there are alcohol and/or drugs.
- discussing the risks of drugged driving with friends in advance
Points to Remember
- Use of illicit drugs or misuse of prescription drugs can make driving a car unsafe—just like driving after drinking alcohol.
- In 2018, 20.5 million people aged 16 or older drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year and 12.6 million drove under the influence of illicit drugs.
- It's hard to measure how many crashes are caused by drugged driving, but estimates show that almost 44 percent of drivers in fatal car crashes tested positive for drugs.
- Driving under the influence of marijuana, opioids and alcohol can have profound effects on driving.
- People who use drugs and alcohol should develop social strategies to prevent them from getting behind the wheel of a car while impaired.
For more information about drugged driving webpage.
For more information about marijuana and prescription drug misuse, visit:
- Prescription CNS Depressants DrugFacts
- Prescription Opioids DrugFacts
- Prescription Stimulants DrugFacts
*The COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on data collection for the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). For more information, please see the2021 NSDUH Frequently Asked Questionsfrom the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Hartman RL, Huestis MA. Cannabis effects on driving skills. Clin Chem. 2013;59(3):478-492. doi:10.1373/clinchem.2012.194381
- Hartman RL, Brown TL, Milavetz G, et al. Cannabis effects on driving lateral control with and without alcohol. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2015;154:25-37. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.06.015
- Lenné MG, Dietze PM, Triggs TJ, Walmsley S, Murphy B, Redman JR. The effects of cannabis and alcohol on simulated arterial driving: Influences of driving experience and task demand. Accid Anal Prev. 2010;42(3):859-866. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2009.04.021
- Compton R. Marijuana-Impaired Driving: A Report to Congress. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; 2017.
- Dhingra L, Ahmed E, Shin J, Scharaga E, Magun M. Cognitive Effects and Sedation. Pain Med Malden Mass. 2015;16 Suppl 1:S37-S43. doi:10.1111/pme.12912
- Chihuri S, Li G. Use of prescription opioids and motor vehicle crashes: A meta analysis. Accid Anal Prev. 2017;109:123-131. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2017.10.004
- Substance Abuse Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Results from the2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, SAMHSA. Accessed January 2023.
- Wilson FA, Stimpson JP, Pagán JA. Fatal crashes from drivers testing positive for drugs in the U.S., 1993-2010. Public Health Rep Wash DC 1974. 2014;129(4):342-350.
- Biecheler M-B, Peytavin J-F, Facy F, Martineau H. SAM survey on “drugs and fatal accidents”: search of substances consumed and comparison between drivers involved under the influence of alcohol or cannabis. Traffic Inj Prev. 2008;9(1):11-21. doi:10.1080/15389580701737561
- Elvik R. Risk of road accident associated with the use of drugs: a systematic review and meta-analysis of evidence from epidemiological studies. Accid Anal Prev. 2013;60:254-267. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2012.06.017
- Compton RP, Berning A. Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; 2015. DOT HA 812 117.
- Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration https://www.nhtsa.gov/research-data/fatality-analysis-reporting-system-fars.
- Drug-Impaired Driving: Marijuana and Opioids Raise Critical Issues for States. Washington DC: Governors Highway Safety Association; 2018.
- Teen Drivers: Get the Facts | Motor Vehicle Safety | CDC Injury Center. http://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html. Published October 14, 2015. Accessed April 7, 2016.
- Arria AM, Caldeira KM, Vincent KB, Garnier-Dykstra LM, O’Grady KE. Substance-related traffic-risk behaviors among college students. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2011;118(2-3):306-312. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2011.04.012
This publication is available for your use and may be reproduced in its entirety without permission from NIDA. Citation of the source is appreciated, using the following language: Source:National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Drugged driving is driving a vehicle while impaired due to the intoxicating effects of recent drug use. It can make driving a car unsafe—just like driving after drinking alcohol. Drugged driving puts the driver, passengers, and others who share the road at serious risk.How often does drugged driving cause crashes? ›
More than half of people involved in road accidents had drugs or alcohol in their system, study says. More than 55% of people involved in serious or fatal road accidents tested positive for drugs or alcohol, according to a new study. Impaired driving is one of the leading causes of fatal crashes in the United States.What drugs can affect a person's driving ability? ›
Alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs can impair the ability to drive because they slow coordination, judgment, and reaction times. Cocaine and methamphetamine can make drivers more aggressive and reckless.Which drug accounts for the most drunk driving accidents? ›
While alcohol is still the single drug that accounts for the most accidents, it is closely followed by marijuana and prescription drugs.What is the second most common drug to cause collision? ›
Methamphetamine can lead drivers to be aggressive and reckless when driving. Methamphetamine is the second highest drug that drivers are testing positive for in fatal crashes.Are most accidents caused by sober drivers? ›
85% of car accidents are caused by sober drivers let that sink in : r/SipsTea.What are 4 types of drugs that may affect your ability to drive *? ›
- Marijuana or cannabis products.
- Prescription or over-the-counter medication that causes drowsiness or other side effects that impair driving abilities.
This medicine may make you dizzy, drowsy, or lightheaded. Do not drive or do anything else that could be dangerous until you know how this medicine affects you.Which of the following are warning signs of drowsy driving? ›
- Can't remember the last few miles driven.
- Have wandering or disconnected thoughts.
- Experience difficulty focusing or keeping your eyes open.
- Have trouble keeping your head up.
- Drift from lanes or hit a rumble strip.
- Yawn repeatedly.
- Tailgate or miss traffic signs.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, aside from alcohol, cannabis is the most frequently detected drug in drivers who are in crashes.
Alcohol is the most commonly found drug among impaired drivers, but other impairing drugs include prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, cannabis and illegal street drugs.What are the most commonly abused controlled substances? ›
Three types of drugs are abused most often: • Opioids—prescribed for pain relief • CNS depressants—barbiturates and benzodiazepines prescribed for anxiety or sleep problems (often referred to as sedatives or tranquilizers) • Stimulants—prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the sleep disorder ...Is it illegal to drive on benzodiazepines? ›
The drugs can also impact the medication user's ability to drive a vehicle. Although taking benzos is not unlawful if you have a doctor's prescription, arrests for driving under the influence of benzodiazepines are common.Can you legally drive on gabapentin? ›
You should not drive or use heavy machinery while taking this drug until you know how it affects you.What painkillers can you not drive on? ›
Strong painkillers commonly prescribed by doctors include: Oramorph, MST, Oxynorm, Fentanyl, Oxycontin and Sevredol. You should not drive for at least five days when you first start taking strong painkillers, or if you are changing the dose of strong painkillers. Sometimes longer is needed.What is the foremost drug that has been the cause of increased drugged driving? ›
After alcohol, marijuana is the most common drug associated with impaired driving.What are the three major drugs of abuse? ›
Generally, drugs that are abused are separated into three categories: stimulants, sedatives, and narcotics.What is the primary drug of abuse? ›
Or the misuse of legal substances, such as alcohol, nicotine, or prescription medicines. Alcohol is the most common legal drug associated with substance use disorder.Who causes the most driving accidents? ›
In the United States, the most common cause of car crash deaths is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Other common causes include distracted driving, such as using a cellphone while driving, speeding, reckless driving, and not wearing a seatbelt.What age group has the most drunk driving accidents? ›
The 21- to 24-year-old age group has the most drunk driving accidents in the United States, according to recent research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
On average in 2021, fatal car crashes were more frequent on weekends, peaking on Saturday. The number of nonfatal crashes tended to be higher on weekdays, peaking on Friday.What are the Class 4 drugs? ›
Schedule IV Controlled Substances
Examples of Schedule IV substances include: alprazolam (Xanax®), carisoprodol (Soma®), clonazepam (Klonopin®), clorazepate (Tranxene®), diazepam (Valium®), lorazepam (Ativan®), midazolam (Versed®), temazepam (Restoril®), and triazolam (Halcion®).
Sing or listen to the radio to keep alert. Avoid alcohol and medications that can cause drowsiness. Drive with an erect posture, with legs at a 45-degree angle. Pull over at a rest stop or other safe place and take a 20-minute nap (any longer will make you feel groggy).Which driving symptom might indicate that a driver is impaired? ›
Driving with excessive speed or very slow speed. Stopping without apparent cause. Following too closely. Drifting or braking erratically.What happens if you drive on hydrocodone? ›
you should know that hydrocodone may make you drowsy. Do not drive a car or operate machinery until you know how this medication affects you. you should know that hydrocodone may cause dizziness, lightheadedness, and fainting when you get up too quickly from a lying position.Why can't you drive on Percocet? ›
Opioid medications may cause side effects of sedation, reduced attention, reduced short term memory reduced reaction time, reduced coordination, blurred vision and miosis all of which can adversely affect driving capability.Is it illegal to drive while on Percocet? ›
Driving under the influence of painkillers or any other drugs is illegal in the State of California. California Vehicle Code Section 23152(f) VC makes it a crime for a person to drive under the influence of drugs, including prescription and nonprescription painkillers.What type of people are most at risk for drowsy driving? ›
POPULATION GROUPS AT HIGHEST RISK
Young people (ages 16 to 29), especially males. Shift workers whose sleep is disrupted by working at night or working long or irregular hours. People with untreated sleep apnea syndrome (SAS) and narcolepsy.
Who's at greater risk of drowsy driving and related crashes and deaths? Teen and young adult drivers. Drivers on the road between midnight and 6 a.m. or in the later afternoon. Drivers who don't get enough sleep.Who is most affected by drowsy driving? ›
Late-night and third-shift workers are particularly affected by the natural release of melatonin associated with dark hours as they journey home after a long shift. Drowsy driving accidents can be caused by a number of factors.
Cannabis is the illicit drug most frequently found in the blood of drivers involved in motor vehicle crashes, including fatal ones.What drug starts with car? ›
Carfentanil is a synthetic opioid that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine and 100 times more potent than fentanyl, which itself is 50 times more potent than heroin.Can you drive off a Xan? ›
However, if you illegally obtained the Xanax (i.e., you don't have a prescription for it), it is always illegal to drive while having ingested Xanax. Ingesting Xanax and driving will result in an automatic Xanax DUI arrest and charge. What Does 'Under the Influence' Mean?What is 3 the illegal drug most often detected in impaired drivers __________? ›
After alcohol, marijuana is the drug most often found in the blood of drivers involved in crashes. Tests for detecting marijuana in drivers measure the level of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana's mind-altering ingredient, in the blood.Which condition mimics the effects of drunk driving? ›
Hypoglycemia And DUI Defense
People with hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can experience a wide range of symptoms that can be mistaken for alcohol intoxication. These include shakiness, dizziness, confusion, difficulty speaking, and loss of coordination.
- Marijuana. This mild hallucinogen, derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, is the most commonly abused illegal drug in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. ...
- Cocaine. ...
- Opiates. ...
- Methamphetamine. ...
Schedule I drugs have the greatest potential for abuse and have no known medical value. These substances are not approved for medical use by the federal government and no prescriptions may be written for their use. Schedule II have more potential for dependence than schedule V substances.What drugs have a high potential for abuse? ›
Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence. Examples of Schedule I drugs are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote.What not to do while taking Xanax? ›
Avoid operating machinery, driving, or performing tasks that require mental alertness while taking Xanax. Avoid alcohol while taking this medicine. The lowest effective dose of Xanax should be used for the shortest time possible.Why do doctors not want to prescribe benzodiazepines? ›
Drugs with a shorter half-life are linked with higher potential for addiction and dependence because the effects wear off faster. That is one reason why doctors are typically hesitant to prescribe Xanax for long periods of time.
It is extremely dangerous to mix benzodiazepines with other depressant/downer drugs like alcohol, gabapentin and opioids (such as heroin, buprenorphine and methadone). All of these drugs can depress breathing resulting in a serious risk of death if mixed.Why is gabapentin a restricted drug? ›
Why is gabapentin controlled in some states? Gabapentin is structurally and pharmacologically related to pregabalin (Lyrica, Lyrica CR), which is a Schedule V drug and controlled federally in all states.Does the DEA consider gabapentin a controlled substance? ›
Gabapentin is not currently controlled under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.Who Cannot take gabapentin? ›
Gabapentin is not suitable for some people. To make sure it's safe for you, tell your doctor if you: have ever had an allergic reaction to gabapentin or any other medicine. have ever misused or been addicted to a medicine.Are you allowed to drive on Oxycontin? ›
Frequently-prescribed drugs that impair the user's driving ability include Dolophine, Demerol, Vicodin, and Oxycontin. These medications slow a driver's reaction time, reflexes, and thinking processes. Never drive any vehicle or operate heavy machinery while using these medications.Why can't you drive on oxycodone? ›
The effects of oxycodone make it harder to drive or operate machinery safely. If you drive a motor vehicle after taking oxycodone, you are more likely to crash, and hurt or kill yourself or someone else.Is it illegal to drive while taking tramadol? ›
Driving under the influence of these medications can lead to DUI charges. Pain relievers – Codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and tramadol can result in DUI charges even if you were prescribed the medication and took the medication according to your doctor's orders.What percent of car crashes are caused by drugs? ›
Points to Remember
It's hard to measure how many crashes are caused by drugged driving, but estimates show that almost 44 percent of drivers in fatal car crashes tested positive for drugs. Driving under the influence of marijuana, opioids and alcohol can have profound effects on driving.
When you get behind the wheel and are extremely tired, it puts you and other drivers on the road in danger. Data shows that 2.4 percent of all fatal car accidents involve drowsy drivers.What are the chances of a drunk driver crashing? ›
A drunk driver who has BAC of 0.10 – 0.14 is forty-eight times more likely to get into an accident compared to a normal sober driver. A drunk driver who has BAC of 0.05 to 0.09 is eleven times more likely to get into an accident compared to a normal sober driver.
In the United States, 9,818 people were killed in drug-involved crashes in 2020, a 1.6 percent increase from 9,661 in 2019, and a 7.4 percent increase from 9,140 in 2016 (see Figure 1).What is the most common drug found in motorists involved in car accidents? ›
After alcohol and cannabis, sedatives and stimulants were the most common drug categories found in drivers. The report concluded that, while alcohol increases the risk of crashing, alcohol combined with drug use increases that risk substantially.What time of the day do most drowsy driving crashes happen? ›
Occur most frequently between midnight and 6 a.m., or in the late afternoon.
Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.What are 3 scenarios that make a driver at risk of drowsy driving? ›
- Teen and young adult drivers. ...
- Drivers on the road between midnight and 6 a.m. or in the later afternoon. ...
- Drivers who don't get enough sleep. ...
- Commercial truck drivers. ...
- Drivers who work the night shift or long shifts.
When one has alcohol in their system, the release of these chemicals is inhibited, making the body more physically relaxed. Accordingly, people who are drunk not only have a higher chance of surviving car crashes, but they may also stay alive after other traumatic injuries.How to get sober in 5 minutes? ›
- Drink Coffee. Drinking a strong black coffee is sometimes suggested by helpful friends as a means of 'sobering up'. ...
- Take a cold shower. Standing under some cold water will shock your body into sobering up. ...
- Eat. ...
- Sleep. ...
Drunk Driving Accident Statistics and Facts in the United States. Statistically, more fatal crashes caused by drinking and driving occur in urban areas (56%) than rural areas (44%).What is the leading cause of drug related death? ›
Opioids—mainly synthetic opioids (other than methadone)—are currently the main driver of drug overdose deaths. 82.3% of opioid-involved overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids.What are 3 things you can do to prevent a drunk person from driving? ›
- Be the Designated Driver. ...
- Call a Ride. ...
- Take Public Transportation. ...
- Be Firm and Non-Confrontational. ...
- Consider the Situation. ...
- Put Your Feelings Out There. ...
- Have Back-Up Options. ...
- Collect Car Keys.
Overdose deaths remain a leading cause of injury-related death in the United States. The majority of overdose deaths involve opioids. Deaths involving synthetic opioids (largely illicitly made fentanyl) and stimulants (such as cocaine and methamphetamine) have increased in recent years.