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Preventing Drugged Driving

Same Effort Needed That Curtailed Drunk Driving


Updated May 22, 2012

Drunk Driving

Impaired driving.

While the rates of drunk driving and highway fatalities related to alcohol began declining in recent years after decades of steady increases, the number of drugged driving fatalities have been increasing at a rapid rate.

It took a massive grassroots effort over a long period of time to begin to see a reduction in alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the United States, and now the same kind of effort may be needed to stem the surge in drugged driving.

The problem of drugged driving has become so widespread that the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has included in its National Drug Control Strategy a goal of reducing drugged driving by 10% by the year 2015.

Steps to Reducing Drugged Driving

To reach that goal the ONDCP strategy includes:

  • Enhancing prevention of drugged driving through education
  • Collecting further data on drugged driving
  • Increased training to law enforcement on identifying drugged drivers
  • Developing standard screening methodologies to detect the presence of drugs.
  • Encouraging states to adopt per se drug impairment laws

Impaired Driving Is Dangerous

One of the main keys to attacking the problem will be to educate the public to the dangers of drugged driving, just as the nation was educated over the years about the seriousness of drunk driving. Driving while doing drugs is dangerous because it can affect the driver's motor skills, reaction time and judgment.

Although communities, law enforcement, policy makers and legislators need to be aware of the dangers of drugged driving, the main group that needs to understand the risks are those who are actually using drugs and getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Even if you are taking pain medication, tranquilizers or many other medications exactly as prescribed, they can cause your driving skills to be impaired to the point that your risk of injury or death while driving is significantly increased.

Training Law Enforcement

Another key factor in reducing drugged driving has been the development of the Drug Evaluation & Classification Program to train law enforcement personnel to become certified drug recognition experts (DRE). The program, begun by the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1970s, is now utilized by law enforcement in 44 states.

The DEC training gives police a simple, standardized procedure for recognizing drug influence and impairment. Trained DRE officers can not only successfully identify drug impairment, but can accurately determine the category of drugs causing the impairment.

To reduce drugged driving, more resources will be needed so that more police officers, especially in small or rural communities, can take the lengthy (up to 60 hours) DEC training.

Tools for Law Enforcement

All 50 states have adopted a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 as the legal limit for driving under the influence of alcohol. The driver's BAC can be quickly and easily tested with a roadside breatalyzer or confirmed later with blood tests.

But no such technology has been developed for drugged drivers. There are no measurable limits for which impairment can be demonstrated and some drugs remain in the system for days and weeks. There is no simple, roadside test that law enforcement can use to determine drugged driving impairment, as there is for drunk drivers.

States Passing Per Se Laws

Consequently, to combat the growing drugged driving problem, 17 states have passed per se laws, which means if drivers are found to have any detectable level of a prohibited drug in their system, they are guilty of illegally operating the vehicle under the influence.

Some other states have passed laws which define drugged driving as driving when a drug "renders the driver incapable of driving safely" or "causes the driver to be impaired." In these states, the courts rely upon the observations of the arresting officer to determine if the driver was impaired.

To reduce the growing threat of drugged drivers on the highways, the ONDCP strategy is to convince more state legislatures to pass per se laws, making it against the law to drive when any amount of certain drugs - illegal and prescription - are found in the driver's system.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. "What Is Drugged Driving?." December 2010.

Office of National Drug Control Policy. "Drugged Driving." Accessed May 2012.

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