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Drugged Driving Prevention

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Drugged Driving Prevention: Intervention Techniques to Keep Them Out of the Driver’s Seat states, “Conservative estimates show that 20% of crashes in the US are caused by drugged driving. This translates into about 6,761 deaths, 440,000 injuries and $59.9 billion in costs each year.” Drugged driving is more difficult to detect than drunk driving because there is no simple test, such as a breathalyzer test, to determine if someone is impaired. In addition, there is no single, widely-accepted interpretation of impairment for potential drugged drivers.

Young people are at considerable risk for getting themselves in a position to suffer consequences of drugged driving, whether they’re behind the wheel or riding as a passenger. points out a statistic reported by Monitoring the Future that notes that “nearly 28% of high school seniors… put themselves at risk, by being in a vehicle whose driver had been using marijuana or another illicit drug, or had drunk 5 or more alcoholic drinks, in the two weeks prior to being surveyed.”

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The statistics of drugged driving are frightening and are becoming more so every year. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) highlights data documented by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), explaining, “In 2013, an estimated 9.9 million people aged 12 or older reported driving under the influence of illicit drugs.” As a society, we need to work on educating ourselves and our loved ones about the dangers of drugged driving. When we or someone we know attempts to drive while under the influence of a drug or drugs, we need to try our utmost to intervene and potentially save multiple lives from unfathomable tragedy.

What You’ll Find in This Guide:

  • Common Drugs Used by Drugged Drivers
  • Dangers of Drugged Driving
  • Interpreting Drug Impairment
  • Techniques for Intervention
  • Resources for Drugged Driving Prevention

Common Drugs Used By Drugged Drivers

This section covers some of the effects certain drugs and medications tend to have on people. Also covered are the most common drugs and medications that are used by drugged drivers who are killed in driving accidents.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse’s The Science of Drug Use & Addiction states that drugged driving can have different effects depending upon the drug(s) used. They report that marijuana can “slow reaction time, impair judgment of time and distance, and decreased motor coordination.”

They also explain that there are many other drugs that will have very different outcomes. “Drivers who have used cocaine or methamphetamine can be aggressive and reckless when driving. Certain kinds of sedatives, called benzodiazepines, can cause dizziness and drowsiness, which can lead to accidents.” Add alcohol to the mix and you have even more potentiality for tragedy.

Cable News Network (CNN) states that a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) examined drugged and drunk driving.

The report states that the most common drugs found in those killed in accidents were:

  • marijuana (34.7%)
  • amphetamines (9.7%)
  • hydrocodone (6.9%)
  • oxycodone (3.6%)
  • benzodiazepines (4.5%)
  • cocaine (4.5%)

Dangers of Drugged Driving

Drugged driving is on the rise. Much of this is due to illegal drugs becoming more mainstream, more prescription medications being prescribed by doctors, and easy access to over-the-counter medications. Drugged driving is becoming an immense problem in our society, and it is starting to be recognized as such.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) explains that Americans are aware of the tragic outcomes drunk driving and distracted driving may cause. Drugged driving is becoming more of a problem and is finally starting to be noticed more by the public. NCADD reports that prescription, over-the-counter, and illegal drugs all can impair perception, judgment, motor skills, memory, and reaction time, substantially hindering a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.

NCADD also provides some details from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) National Roadside Survey. This survey finds that “more than 16% of weekend, nighttime drivers tested positive for illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter medications (11% tested positive for illegal drugs).”

ScienceDaily explains that use of non-alcohol drugs “detected in fatally injured drivers in the U.S. has been steadily rising and tripled from 1999 to 2010 for drivers who tested positive for marijuana—the most commonly detected non-alcohol drug—suggesting that drugged driving may be playing an increasing role in fatal motor vehicle crashes.”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) highlights part of the NHTSA report from 2010, noting that “57% of fatally injured drivers had alcohol and/or other drugs in their system—17% had both.” Drugged driving has become such a widespread problem in our society that in 2015 MADD revised their mission statement to reflect the problem. MADD’s new mission now states: “The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes and prevent underage drinking.”

Interpreting Drug Impairment

Detecting drug impairment is incredibly difficult. There is no easy test for drug impairment because individuals may have varying levels of tolerance, and the pharmacological characteristics of different drugs make it challenging to devise a widely-accepted standard that could be applied across the board to the many drugs that may impair a person’s ability to operate a vehicle. In this section, we also discuss the number of states that currently have zero tolerance and per se laws in place.

Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health addresses the testing of drugs in a person’s system. Dr. Guohua Li, Professor of Epidemiology and Director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention, states that “findings need to be carefully interpreted.” Dr. Li points out that after an accident a person may test positive for a drug, but may not have been impaired by that drug at the time of the accident. In addition, Dr. Li explains, “variations in individual tolerance and pharmacological characteristics of different drugs make it difficult to determine drug impairment. Also, there is no uniformly accepted definition of impairment for different drugs.”

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reports that “16 states have zero tolerance laws in effect for one or more drugs.” Zero tolerance means it is illegal to operate a vehicle with any “measurable amount of specified drugs in the body.” The GHSA also states that “6 states have per se laws in effect for one or more drugs.” Per se laws “make it illegal to drive with amounts of specified drugs in the body that exceed set limits.”

Techniques for Intervention

The resources in this section, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the American Automobile Association (AAA), examine multiple drugged driving intervention possibilities. These tips are invaluable as prevention is truly the best approach to reducing the number of drugged driving accidents, fatalities, and legal consequences that can impact an individual for the rest of their life.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) offers some great tips to prevent people from driving while intoxicated which are also applicable to drugged driving. One of the best ways to prevent drugged driving is for everyone to plan ahead of time what they’re going to do when the party or event ends. A designated driver, a cab, a bus, or staying over for the night (if you’re with someone you trust) are all excellent possibilities.

Below are all of MADD’s tips that may be helpful in intervening before someone attempts drugged driving:

  • Avoid confrontation when discussing plans for transportation.
  • Suggest alternative transportation options for reaching the destination, such as a cab, sober driver, or public transit options.
  • Be mindful of the level of impairment of the person you’re talking to – talk a bit more slowly and take time to explain your suggestions fully.
  • Make it clear that your concerns arise from care, and you don’t want them to injure themselves or someone else by driving in an impaired state.
  • Suggest that they spend the night with you or wherever they are presently, as long as the location is safe.
  • Gain support from friends who can back up your concerns and suggestions. It’s more difficult to say ‘no’ to two or more people you care about or look up to than just one.
  • Take the person’s keys, if possible. It’s often much easier to persuade drivers to make safe choices when you have the leverage of possessing their keys.
  • If all else fails, call law enforcement. While this is the last choice most people would want to make, it might be the choice between having a friend or loved one arrested or having them injured or killed in an accident.

In addition to the useful tips above, the American Automobile Association (AAA) offers some additional applicable tips:

  • Offer to be a designated driver, or appoint someone responsible who can take the car keys of everyone in attendance who are at risk of drugged driving.
  • Anyone who finds themselves in an impaired state and unable to drive should call a friend or family member to pick them up. Alternatively, use cab services or public transportation if available.
  • Avoid driving to parties where drugs and alcohol are present.
  • Talk about the risks of drugged driving with your friends, family members, or other loved ones in advance. Open communication is important, and it’s often easier to achieve before anyone becomes impaired.

Every one of these tips are excellent safety tips for both drugged and/or drunk driving. Education is the first, and probably best, way to keep people from driving impaired. The Office of National Drug Control Policy offers activity guides, partner programs, and other resources that spread the word about drugged driving.

Resources for Drugged Driving Prevention

The following are resources you may contact for more information about drugs, drug use, and drugged driving. You will find places and phone numbers, referral and physician locators, and materials to learn more information.

The Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP) offers a patient referral program and physician locator.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) offers a substance use resource center.

The American Academy of Family Physicians: Patient Resource on Opioid Addiction outlines the basic information on drugs and alcohol that is necessary to understand their potential dangers.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) is “dedicated to increasing access and improving the quality of addiction treatment, educating physicians and the public supporting research and prevention, and promoting the appropriate role of physicians in the care of patients with addiction,” according to its website.

Faces and Voices of Recovery (FAVOR), Recovery Community Organizations helps website visitors locate local recovery organizations.

Families Anonymous (FA) is described as a “12 Step Fellowship for the family and friends of those individuals with drug, alcohol or related behavioral issues.”

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has a 24-hour help line at 877-MADD-HELP (877-6233-4357) for individuals and families who have been affected by drunk or drugged driving.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Research Dissemination Center offers fact sheets, pamphlets, and booklets about drugs, drug use, and addiction treatment.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is not just for those contemplating suicide. This organization states on its website that it offers help “no matter what problems you are dealing with.” They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255).

The Office of National Drug Control Policy offers activity guides, partner programs, and other resources to try and spread the word about drugged driving.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids works to “reduce substance use among adolescents by supporting families and engaging with teens.” Their helpline is: 855-DRUGFREE (855-378-4373).

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that it serves “individuals and family members facing mental health and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.” The toll-free number is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year in English and Spanish. You may also order free publications and receive other information. Call 800-662-HELP (800-662-4357) or 800-487-4889 (TTY). You can also go to to access the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

The mission of is to provide “an online chat resource [that] provides online chats 24/7 and online AA meetings, nightly at 10pm ET.”

Drugged driving is a growing problem, and it’s equally dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. While standards and punitive approaches are not yet fully defined, prevention is and has always been the most effective measure to reduce injury, death, and other consequences of driving in an impaired state.