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The Dangers of Impaired Driving

drinking and driving drugged driving dui impaired driving prevention resources Apr 01, 2022

In an average year, 30 million Americans drive drunk, and 10 million Americans drive impaired by illicit drugs. A 2010 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) revealed that 13.2 percent of all people aged 16 or older drove under the influence of alcohol and 4.3 percent drove under the influence of illicit drugs during the past year. Furthermore, rates of impaired driving differed dramatically by age.

  • While 11.8 percent of people aged 26 and older drove drunk, 19.5 percent of people aged 16 to 25 drove drunk.
  • And, 2.8 percent of the older group drove drugged, while 11.4 percent of younger drivers did so.All 50 States and the District of Columbia enforce the minimum legal drinking age of 21 years. SAMHSA asks minors to avoid alcohol, and encourages parents and other caregivers to make a new or renewed commitment to never cater a party to underage drinking. If someone you know is drinking, do not let that person get behind the wheel. If you see an impaired driver on the road, contact law enforcement. Your actions may save someone’s life, and inaction could cost a life. Families play an essential part in stopping impaired driving. By talking about the risks and setting clear expectations, parents and other caregivers can help their children stay safe, sober, and focused on the road.


  • Drunk driving crashes continue to represent roughly one-third of fatalities, resulting in 9,967 deaths in 2014
  • Alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crashes cost more than an estimated $37 billion annually
  • Drunk driving is often a symptom of a larger problem: alcohol misuse and abuse
  • Drivers at a breath alcohol level of 0.08 percent, the legal limit in every state, were about four times more likely to crash than sober drivers
  • In the 2013-2014 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drivers were tested for a large number of potentially impairing drugs using both oral fluid (saliva) and blood samples. Marijuana (THC) was the only single category of drug for which study findings reached statistical significance.  

The problem of driving under the influence of alcohol:

  • Young drivers are less likely than adults to drive after drinking alcohol, but their crash risk is substantially higher when they do. This is especially true at low and moderate blood alcohol concentrations (BACs).
  • In the most recent survey, 16.5 percent of high school students age 16 and older reported riding with a driver who had been drinking alcohol in the past 30 days. 
  • Drivers are less likely to use restraints when they have been drinking.
  • In 2016, 12% of 16-17 year older drivers involved in fatal crashes had a BAC greater than .08. 
  • Most of those killed in alcohol-related crashes involving teen drivers are the young drivers themselves and their passengers.

Zero Tolerance Law and other consequences of driving under the influence:

  • Zero tolerance law makes it illegal per se (in and of itself) for persons under the age of 21 to drive with any measurable amount of alcohol in their blood.
  • Violators of underage drinking laws often face a trip to jail, the loss of their driver’s license, and dozens of other unanticipated expenses including attorney fees, court costs, and other fines.
  • A DUI conviction follows a teen, so there is the added embarrassment, humiliation, and potential loss and consequence related to academic eligibility, college acceptance, scholarship awards, and more.
  • Increased efforts by local law enforcement make the chances of getting caught even greater.

Drugged Driving

  • In 2015, the most recent year for which data are available, NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) reported that drugs were present in 43% of the fatally-injured drivers with a known test result, more frequently than alcohol was present.

  • Marijuana is by far the most common drug used, found in roadside surveys, and found in fatally injured drivers.

  • Drug-impaired driving is more complex than alcohol-impaired driving for many reasons.

The Effects of Drugged Driving

  • Alprazolam (Xanax XR, Niravam), is an anti-anxiety medication in the benzodiazepine family, the same family that includes diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), flurazepam (Dalmane), and others. These medications are downers and can cause confusion, blurry vision and vertigo. Not good effects to get behind the wheel.
  • Amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Adderall) is used for treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Amphetamines stimulate the brain by increasing the level of neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine, in the brain. While it may boost your ego, adderall can increase your heart rate, and puts drivers at risk for having a seizure or stroke.
  • The effects of MDMA can be confusion, severe anxiety and decreased motor skills. Taking any drug can impair your driving skills, putting you and others more at risk for a car crash.
  • OxyContin (oxycodone) is an opioid pain medication. Painkillers are one of the most commonly abused drugs by teens, after tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. Opioids are highly addictive and can cause nausea, confusion, and breathing problems.
  • Not only will driving under the influence of marijuana earn you a DUI, but it will significantly impair judgement, motor coordination, and reaction time – perfect for causing a crash.

What to do about impaired driving:

  • Driving after even one drink is just not worth it. Ride with a sober friend, ask someone else to drive or call a parent or older sibling.
  • Driving after one puff or consuming edible marijuana (THC) is not worth risking your life and the life of others on the road. Find a sober ride by taking a cab, rideshare or public transportation.
  • Food, coffee or exercise will not reduce the effects of alcohol or drugs in your system. Only time decreases the effects of alcohol and drugs.
  • Don’t believe you can “fool” a police officer. They are trained to look for tale-tell signs of a driver who is under the influence.
  • If a friend has been drinking or taking drugs and is about to drive, SPEAK UP. Offer to drive, take the keys, or call a parent.
  • Never get in a car with a driver who has been drinking or doing drugs. Everyone reacts differently. Always assume that person is too impaired to drive. Follow the “Better Safe Than Sorry” mantra.

For local information about impaired driving, visit WEEDUI and No Drive Five from Ventura County Limits and Ventura County Behavioral Health.