Safe Driving – The Importance of Getting There Alive

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As cities across the U.S. continue to grow in population, traffic is just getting worse. Never before has sober driving been more critical. Yet, as cannabis legalization increases, more people now drive under the influence of marijuana. And though drunk driving statistics are down when compared to drunk driving figures from before the turn of the century, there are still millions of people who drive drunk every year (and thousands who die as a result).

This is a public health problem, and it’s 100 percent preventable. It's important to learn the truth about drunk and drugged driving, the harm involved, what precipitates such decisions, and what people can do to prevent the lethal phenomena of under-the-influence driving.

Driving While Under the Influence

There’s a fair amount of research on impaired driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drunk and drugged driving is still a lethal occurrence in the U.S., with thousands dying every year as a result.

Reports indicate that, while drunk driving has leveled out and continues to be a problem, marijuana-influenced driving has increased by 48 percent among weekend, nighttime drivers. As people continue to drink and drive and use drugs and drive, thousands of Americans will die in preventable accidents every year.

As marijuana becomes increasingly more available to the public, drugged driving statistics have soared. In just one year, 2018, about 12 million people drive under the influence of marijuana. About 2.3 million people drove under the influence of a drug other than marijuana.

It would seem that, even with lulls in the statistical prominence of intoxicated driving, the problem of alcohol or drug-influenced driving is still a critical one.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reminds us of how lethal drunk driving is, not only for the driver but for other drivers and passengers on the roads. In 2014, 9,967 people died as a result of drunk driving. Drunk driving is responsible for about one-third of all driving fatalities. Thousands are still dying as a result of drunk driving. We can't rest until those fatalities are brought down to zero.

What Can We Do to Prevent Drunk and Drugged Driving?

Driving while under the influence is a severe and broad problem, to the point where news organizations are now calling it a “public health crisis.” And there is some sense in that label. When thousands of Americans drive under the influence, they’re putting their lives and the lives of others on the road in danger.

People are now admitting to drinking and driving or using drugs and driving, but that's not resulting in a reduction in such patterns and habits. U.S. News reported on this. Almost five percent of Americans 16 or older admitted to driving under the influence of marijuana at least once in the past year. About eight percent admitted to driving drunk.

So what can we do to prevent drunk and drugged driving?

“Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities decreased by 3.6 percent from 2017 to 2018, accounting for 29 percent of 2018 overall fatalities. This 29 percent of overall fatalities is the lowest percentage since 1982 when NHTSA started reporting alcohol data.”

First, we should recognize that we can influence drunk and drugged driving statistics because we have done so in the past. There have been some huge victories here. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, “Alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities decreased by 3.6 percent from 2017 to 2018, accounting for 29 percent of 2018 overall fatalities. This 29 percent of overall fatalities is the lowest percentage since 1982 when NHTSA started reporting alcohol data.”

However, we should not rest until the above statistics are all brought down to zero. Just one person drinking and driving or getting high and driving is one person too many.

Stopping a drunk from driving

A big part of tackling substance-influenced driving is going to come with increasing the overall understanding of the problem. People need to know what’s at stake when they drive drunk. Just understanding the statistics on drunk driving is often enough to deter people from driving drunk. Raising awareness of the problem by participating in marches, events, and public prevention campaigns is one way to help spread the word on how dangerous driving under the influence is. Organizations such as Mothers Against Drug Driving (MADD) is an excellent place to start.

A big part of curbing this problem lies in educating our youth about drugs and alcohol. Our youth need more education on the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol in general. When young people know what they’re dealing with when it comes to drugs and alcohol, they’re less likely to use such substances at all. Reducing drug and alcohol experimentation among young people has the added benefit of lowering under-the-influence driving statistics.

Raising awareness and increasing access to information on the harms of drugs and alcohol is just one step in the right direction. We can also take efforts toward improving access to public transportation, creating low-cost ride-sharing programs, etc. It would be wise to invest in ignition interlocks and other methods of advanced vehicle technology that prevent intoxicated individuals from starting their car engines. And we should always support law enforcement in their efforts to crack down on drunk and drugged driving.

When Addiction is a Factor

People who struggle with an addiction to drugs and alcohol are far more likely to drink and drive or to use drugs and drive than someone who is not an addict. What that means is that reducing drinking and driving statistics is going to depend in no small degree on our ability to help people overcome addiction.

Long term residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment centers offer the best programs for helping people overcome addiction. If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, make sure help is found as soon as possible. Let’s not forget that whether a vehicle is involved or not, an addiction to drugs and alcohol is a life or death matter.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.