New NHTSA Study Reveals Good News and Bad News About Impaired Driving
With drunk drivers posing such a big danger to drivers, it’s naturally something the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) studies carefully. Since 1973, the NHTSA has periodically conducted national surveys called the Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers. The survey was conducted in 1973, 1986, 1996, 2007, and 2013-2014. To collect the data, surveys were conducted at 300 roadside stops throughout the country. Participation was completely voluntary and all data is kept anonymous. Alternate transportation was offered to anyone found to be too impaired to drive and nobody has ever been arrested for participating in the survey, even if they were found to be driving while impaired.
The latest version of the Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers, covering the years 2013 and 2014, reveals both good news and bad news.
The good news is that the number of drivers who were stopped on weekend nights and found to be legally drunk has dropped by about 30% since the survey was last conducted in 2007. The amount of progress that has been made by increasing awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving is particularly impressive when you note that the number of legally drunk drivers stopped is now down by 80% since the first time the survey was conducted in 1973.
Although the number of people driving while legally drunk has dramatically declined over the years, the number of people dying as the result of drunk drivers is still too high. More than 10,000 people died in alcohol related car accidents in 2012, an average of 1 person dying every 51 minutes. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind says, “America made drunk driving a national issue and while there is no victory as long as a single American dies in an alcohol-related crash, 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.”
While the decrease in alcohol-impaired drivers is certainly encouraging, the bad news is that the survey found the number of drivers stopped on weekend nights who had drugs or medicine that can impair driving skills in their system increased. The 2013-2014 survey was only the second time the NHTSA has included testing for drugs, prescription medication, and over-the-counter drugs in this survey; they first began testing for it in 2007.
In 2007, 16.3% drivers stopped on weekend nights had at least one kind of drug or medication in their system. In 2013-2014, that number rose to 20%. Between the 2007 and 2013-2014 surveys, the number of people who had marijuana in their system rose by almost 50%. The NHTSA has also recently studied the effects of marijuana on driving and found that drivers with marijuana in their system were 25% more likely to be involved in an accident than drivers without marijuana in their systems. However, many marijuana users are also part of other demographic groups that are already more likely to be in car accidents, which may also contribute to the incidence of accidents. The NHTSA plans to further study the effects drugs have on driving skills.