The Dangers of Drugged Driving

It’s no secret that driving while under the influence (DUI) can be dangerous. There are campaigns dedicated to reminding people to take a taxi or rideshare service after a night at the bar, while countless celebrity mug shots serve as incentives to avoid driving while intoxicated or impaired (DWI). Many people only associate DUI and DWI with alcohol, but in 2017, drugged driving surpassed drunk driving in traffic fatalities. Driving while under the influence of any substance can be dangerous, but studies show that drugged driving (whether it be prescription or illicit drugs) can be just as — if not more — dangerous than drunk driving.

“Drugged driving has surpassed drunk driving in America, with drugs being a factor in 43 percent of fatal car crashes in 2015.”

According to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, drugs were involved in 43 percent of fatal car crashes in 2015, compared to 37 percent where alcohol was a factor. Both prescription and illicit drugs are culprits in drugged driving incidents. It’s important to understand the risks, consequences and limits of driving while using any kind of substance. By understanding that prescription and illicit drugs are just as serious as alcohol when it comes to driving, we can create a safer environment for everyone on the road.

Driving While Using Prescription Medications

Many people drive while under the influence of prescription drugs, including opioid painkillers, stimulants and more. This could include any number of relatively common medications like codeine, OxyContin, Ambien, Xanax, Tramadol, Percocet, Vicodin, Ritalin and Adderall. Used to treat anything from pain and sleep problems to ADHD and anxiety, prescription medications should always be taken with care and under a doctor’s supervision. Some medications even instruct users not to drive or operate heavy machinery.

Prescription drugs can have a variety of side effects similar to alcohol, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Anxiety
  • Impaired coordination
  • Slow reaction times
  • Blurred vision
  • Fainting

Although some people may be involved in vehicular accidents while taking prescribed medications, others use prescription drugs recreationally, increasing their risk of a car accident. Mixing any number of these medications can be particularly dangerous, as they may react with each other in adverse ways, whether they are prescribed or not. But the problem goes deeper than simply driving while using prescription drugs — it stems from the perception that these medications are harmless.

Because prescription drugs are regulated and marketed as safe, many people think of them as harmless. Even those who use prescription drugs recreationally often think of them as less harmful than illicit alternatives. However, prescription medications should be taken just as seriously as other substances, including alcohol and illegal drugs, because of their mind-altering effects.

Before driving while using prescription drugs, talk to your doctor and fully understand the side effects of your medications. Be sure to communicate with your doctor about every substance that you use, as a prescription may heighten or disrupt the effects of other medications. Understand your dosage limits and know when to avoid driving. There are always alternatives to driving, including taxis, rideshare services, public transportation and more. Prioritizing your health and safety, as well as the safety of those around you, can save lives as you responsibly use prescription drugs.

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Driving While Using Illegal Drugs

Like prescription drugs, illegal substances can be deadly and dangerous when used by a driver. Even if you are not using illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana (in certain states) while in the car, their effects can still be felt for several hours after use. Driving while using these substances can put yourself and others at increased risk of danger.

For those struggling from severe addiction, getting high while on the road is a way to stave off withdrawal or prolong a high. Some people shoot up directly after purchasing more, leaving little time between getting high and starting the engine. Driving while using heroin is increasingly common in the United States, with many reports of parents or guardians driving while intoxicated with children in the car, people passing out at the wheel, or couples crashing after overdosing. But heroin isn’t the only culprit — seemingly harmless drugs like marijuana can impair reaction times and result in accidents or careless driving.

There are several education plans in place throughout the country designed to raise awareness on drugged driving. By understanding that there is zero tolerance for drugged driving, more people can avoid it. Some campaigns across the country include slogans like “Drive High, Get a DUI” and “Drugged Driving Is Impaired Driving.” While recreational drugs can be dangerous in and of themselves, their effects can be amplified behind the wheel. To avoid drugged driving, you can:

  • Ask for help for addiction or substance use disorder
  • Avoid driving after drug use
  • Only use substances when driving is not necessary
  • Specifying a designated driver
  • Understand drug doses and the negative impacts of combining substances, including illegal drugs and alcohol

While there are several ways to avoid drugged driving, the best way is through sobriety. By quitting drugs, you won’t have to worry about potential DUI charges, overdose or causing an accident that could result in a fatality. If you need help overcoming addiction or moving away from illegal substances, programs like those offered at The Recovery Village can help. Call today to learn more about medical detox and inpatient and outpatient treatment options that could save your life or another driver on the road.   

The Dangers of Drugged Driving

Teen Drugged Driving

Aside from alcohol, the substances most commonly involved in accidents are marijuana and prescription drugs. Both marijuana and prescription drugs are also more widely used by teenagers and underaged drivers than other substances. When combined with alcohol or other drugs, these substances create an even higher risk for those behind the wheel.

In a 2011 survey, 12 percent of high school seniors admitted to driving after using marijuana within the two weeks prior to being surveyed, while 9 percent reported driving after using alcohol. A similar study conducted amongst college students indicated that 1 in 6 drivers operated a vehicle while under the influence of drugs. Marijuana was the most prevalent, followed by cocaine and prescription drugs.

Drugged driving in teens, college students and underaged drivers is particularly alarming not only because of the mind-altering effects of these substances, but also because of the lack of driving experience. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that teen drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 are almost three times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash than those over the age of 20. A lack of experience, coupled with a tendency to drive faster and allow shorter distances between vehicles, contributes to teen crash risks.

Young drivers are often less likely to recognize dangerous situations or potential hazards on the road. They are also less likely to know their limit when it comes to substances. But although underage drivers are at an increased risk for drug-related traffic accidents, there are efforts across the country to curb the trend of teen drugged driving. RADD has partnered with a variety of organizations to launch the “Drugged Driving = Done Driving” campaign in Ohio. This program aims to educate teens on the realities and dangers of drugged driving, especially with substances like marijuana or prescription drugs. With the help of peer-to-peer social media efforts, local and national celebrities, public service announcements, and participation from law enforcement and political leaders in the area, teen drugged driving can become a thing of the past in Ohio and beyond.

Legal Consequences of Drugged Driving

Most drivers understand the legality of drunk driving, including the blood alcohol level for different states. But it’s often more difficult for people to understand the risks of drugged driving, along with the legal ramifications. Even if you are using prescription medications, you can still be charged with a variety of offenses. Some of the legal consequences of drugged driving may include:

  • DUI or other similar charges
  • Reckless driving charges
  • Fines
  • Jail time
  • Prison time
  • Community service
  • License suspension
  • License revocation
  • Vehicular manslaughter or other serious charges as a result of an accident

While there is a perception that driving while using certain drugs like prescription medications and marijuana is not dangerous, it is expressly illegal to drive while impaired by any substance. Some celebrities are even inadvertently bringing awareness to the dangers — and legal repercussions — of drugged driving. In May 2017, Tiger Woods was found asleep at the wheel near his home in Jupiter, Florida. Although police found no traces of alcohol, he is reported to have been under the influence of five different drugs: Vicodin, Dilaudid, Xanax, Ambien, and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. While these drugs are all legal in Florida and used for medicinal purposes, their side effects are clearly dangerous when a user gets behind the wheel. Fortunately, the incident did not result in an accident, but Tiger was arrested and charged with reckless driving, incurring a fine and mandatory rehabilitation.

Drugged driving is an issue that can impact anyone — even those who do not use any substances. Because we all share the road, it’s important to understand your own limits and responsibilities as a driver. Whether you are using alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal substances, we all share the responsibility to protect ourselves, our families and other drivers on the road.


If you or someone you know has driven while under the influence of drugs, alcohol or both, or needs help identifying warning signs and risks, The Recovery Village can help. Call today to speak with a representative who can answer your questions or help you seek treatment for you or a loved one.