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Drunk Driving Declines, Drugged Driving Doesn't

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Tequila-Cucumber Highball, by Flickr user Mirabila

Tequila-Cucumber Highball, by Flickr user Mirabila

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Drinking and driving don't mix, and by now, pretty much every driver knows that--though not everyone practices what they preach. The good news: Drunk driving levels have reached a new low, according to a recent roadside survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The bad news: While fewer people are driving under the influence of alcohol, a sustantial number are driving under the influence of other substances. First among them? Marijuana.

Back in the bad old days (1973), fully 7.5 percent of drivers had blood alcohol concentrations of 0.08 percent or higher. That level, very roughly equivalent to four drinks, is now the level at which a driver is considered to be impaired.

In the NHTSA's most recent survey, from 2007, the proportion of drivers with that concentration had fallen by 70 percent, to just 2.2 percent. While still higher than zero, the decline reflects decades of public awareness campaigns by such groups as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Still, 41 percent of the 41,000 traffic deaths in 2006 involved alcohol.

Men were 40 percent more likely to be drunk on the road than women, the NHTSA said, and bikers were more than twice as likely as car drivers: 5.6 percent versus 2.3 percent. Pickup truck drivers fell in between, at 3.3 percent. The likelihood of drunk driving peaked from 1 am to 3 am on weekends.

But the NHTSA's survey, which used new methods to test for drugs, also found one in seven nighttime weekend drivers, or 16.3 percent, had drugs in their system. Marijuana led the list (86. percent), followed by cocaine and either prescription or over-the-counter drugs (which are not illegal) at 3.9 percent each.

Twelve states now make it specifically illegal to operate a motor vehicle with any detectable level of a prohibited substance in the driver's blood. Other states are looser, making drugged driving a crime only when usage "renders the driver incapable of driving safely" or the like.

Very little research has been done on the levels of driver impairment due to different illegal drunks, in part because ... well, they're illegal.

We could probably figure out a snarky joke to close with here, but instead we'll just repeat: Don't drink and drive.

You already know why.

[NHTSA press release and research note (PDF); National Center for Victims of Crime; photo of tequila-cucumber highball by Flickr user Mirabila]

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Comments (5)
  1. To make a quick point. Just because you are pulled over and found to have Marijuana in your system doesnt mean you were driving 'under the influence' of Marijuana. Pot can stay in your system for weeks even months after the last use. So say it's Friday night and you havent smoked pot for say a week and you get pulled over, you can be arrested for a positive test result just as the drunk who had 6 or 7 drinks just hours earlier and is completely trashed. Who is the real danger to other drivers? I am not advocating driving while stoned on Pot, I am just pointing out that this argument is apples and oranges. And many who are against Marijuana use quote articles and claims such as these to enforce thier agenda, but it is all built on a house of cards that crumbles with the implementation of logic. These statistics mean nothing, they are not based on truth.
     
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  2. Give me a road full of stoners of a road full of drunks any day!
    Drunks get behind the wheel and cause accidents, stoners get behind the wheel and miss their exit.
     
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  3. As Spence correctly pointed out, showing up positive for marijuana does NOT mean you are actively under the influence. Pot stays in the system (and is detectable in the urine) for at least 30 days after ingestion. So a driver could have been unimpaired for 29 days and still show up positive. THC metabolites are useless for indicating impairment.
    I also agree with Daryl -- given the choice, I'd MUCH rather share the road with potheads than with drunks. I've been both, plenty of times, and I know the effects on my own driving.
     
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  4. Now new slogan.. " Don't drive when you eat the food"!!
     
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  5. All good points here. I just wanted to add that the reason THC is detectable for so long after ingestion is that your body does not feel the urgent need to expel it like it does with hard drugs because it is non toxic.
    Legalize it already!
     
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