Driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs remains a leading cause of highway crashes. In 2019, one in four traffic fatalities resulted from crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers. And many of these impaired-driving crashes involve drivers who both drink and use other drugs (legal, illicit, and over the counter). Complicating matters, each year, more states are passing laws allowing the use of recreational marijuana and marijuana for medicinal use.
Impaired driving is 100% preventable. We know a per se blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 g/dl is too high. States need to lower per se BACs to .05%, an action only Utah has taken. Too many alcohol-impaired crashes have occurred involving drivers who had previously been convicted of drunk driving. All states need to implement laws requiring all drivers convicted of alcohol-impaired driving to use an interlock device, preventing future impaired driving.
We have investigated many crashes involving drug-impaired drivers, but the fact is we don’t really know how extensive the drug-impaired driving problem is because, unlike for alcohol, no standardized drug-testing protocols exist. There is no established limit or threshold to determine other drug impairment. Additionally, evaluating the impact of other drugs on drivers is challenging because many drugs impair individuals differently than alcohol. Bottom line: we need to develop better drug-testing procedures and tests.
Lessons Learned: NTSB Investigations
The following crashes and study that best exemplify why this safety improvement is needed.
Pickup Truck Centerline Crossover Collision with Medium-Size Bus
Concan, TX | March 2017
Multivehicle Work Zone Crash on Interstate 75
Chattanooga, TN | June 2015
Safety Study: Reaching Zero:
Actions to Eliminate Alcohol-Impaired Driving | May 2013
Stats to Know
Deaths in motor vehicle crashes involving drivers with BACs of .08% or higher in 2019-(28% of all traffic fatalities for the year)- (Source: NHTSA)
Surveyed drivers testing positive for at least one impairing drug (Source: 2013-2014 National Roadside Survey of Drug Use by Drivers)
Children who died in crashes involving an impaired driver in 2018 (Source: NHTSA)
Our Solutions . . . Take Action Now!
Addressing and preventing impaired driving requires a three-pronged approach that involves legislation, technology, and testing.
- Identify best practices and science-based countermeasures to prevent drug-impaired driving; develop a standard of practice for drug toxicology testing and improving roadside oral-fluid screening devices for better detection of drug-impaired drivers; and finalize development of in-vehicle alcohol detection technology.
- Enact laws to require the use of alcohol ignition-interlock devices for all individuals convicted of driving while intoxicated offenses; and establish per se BAC limit of .05 or lower for all drivers.
- NOT drive impaired; it’s that simple. Even one drink or one dose can make you impaired.
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Updated April 6, 2021