Drugged Driving

The Problem:  Substance Impairment Behind the Wheel

In 2013, an estimated 1.16 million people were arrested for driving under the influence, and over 10,000 people died as a result of substance-impaired driving crashes.  While recent trends indicate that alcohol-impaired driving is declining,  a growing body of evidence suggests driving under the influence of other drugs is becoming an increasing threat to motorists on the road.


Source: Findings are from the 2013-2014 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers (NHTSA) and were compared to results from 2007. The results only indicate a measurable level of substances were present in the drivers and does necessarily mean the driver was impaired.

Source: Findings are from the 2013-2014 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers (NHTSA) and were compared to results from 2007. The results indicate only a measurable level of substances present in a driver not level of driver impairment.

Source: Findings are from the Sobriety Testing Resource Center, 2013.

Source: Findings are from the Sobriety Testing Resource Center, 2013.











Learn more about how states fight substance-impairment at the roadside below.

Enforcement Countermeasures

High-visibility enforcement (HVE) is a proven method for reducing alcohol-impaired driving and related crashes, as well as addressing other traffic safety issues like seat-belt use. HVE may also be effective at reducing drugged driving. HVE combines advertising campaigns with specialized enforcement, such as saturation patrols and sobriety checkpoints.  Together these tactics have proven effective at deterring unsafe and unlawful behavior.

Per Se Drug Laws

Seventeen states have per se drug laws whereby it is illegal to drive with any detectable amount of a prohibited substance in ones’ blood. Five states have established permissible limits, most notably for marijuana. Surprisingly, these laws are not based on any data that ties a driver’s level of impairment to the presence or concentration of drugs in their body. With the legalization of marijuana happening across the states, legislators are faced with increasing pressure to issue guidance and policy. Traffic safety stakeholders are working diligently to help inform policymakers on smart legislation.


Alcohol and Drug Courts

DWI and Drug Courts seek to address the underlying drug and/or alcohol problems in order to change individual behavior, coordinated by a judge, prosecutor, probation staff, and treatment staff. Evaluations have shown that DWI courts reduce recidivism (repeat offense).

How Police Recognize Impairment at the Roadside

The Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program trains officers to apprehend substance-impaired drivers. The course trains officers as Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) and they become highly effective at detecting and identifying drivers impaired by drugs and/or alcohol. The Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) Program is a less intensive training that provides officers with general knowledge related to drug impairment. The ARIDE program is designed to support the use of DREs.

  • All 50 states have embraced DEC and ARIDE as promising enforcement programs.
  • There were 7,155 credentialed DREs as of December 2013, including 1,428 DRE instructors.
  • During 2013, 1,129 new DREs and 141 new DRE instructors were credentialed.
  • In 2013, a total of 541 ARIDE classes trained approximately 10,440 officers in the ARIDE program.

Public Outreach and Education
  • Roadwise Rx is a free, informative and innovative tool developed by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety that motorists can use to see how their medication can affect safe driving. Roadwise Rx highlights the potential driving effects of your medications, in addition to showing users the potential interactions their medications may have with other medications or with common foods.
  • AAA recently began raising awareness and understanding among its members and the general public about key substance-impaired driving issues. AAA has developed and promoted educational materials through member publications, social media channels, and online platforms.
  • Utilizing their available Emergency Roadside Assistance capacities, some AAA Clubs provide safe-ride (“Tipsy Tow”/”Tow-To-Go”) programs aimed at reducing substance-related traffic fatalities during seasonal times of year. Most solutions involve a free-to-the-public tow home but are recommended as a last resort.
Legislative Advocacy and Public Policy
  • In 2013, a local AAA club hosted the first AAA regional Impaired Driving Summit in New Hampshire. Modeled after policy summits on other issues, the event aimed to gather all stakeholders (including legislators, criminal justice professionals, healthcare providers, and safety organizations) to review the current scope of the impaired driving problem, identify challenges, and agree on appropriate countermeasures for their state. Clubs have hosted similar summits in Maine, Texas, Florida, and Minnesota.
  • AAA and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety have initiated three research projects to help understand the potential traffic safety implications of drugged driving. The three studies address topics which include, the relationship between cannabis use and motor vehicle crashes, implications of laws designed to prevent drugged driving, and barriers that impede state efforts to collect data on drugged drivers.

  • Offer to be a designated driver or appoint a designated driver to take all car keys.
  • If you find yourself substance-impaired and unable to drive, call someone to pick you up.
  • Avoid driving to parties where drugs and alcohol are present.
  • Discuss the risks of drugged driving with friends in advance.
  • To get help for an addiction and/or substance abuse for yourself or someone you care about, go here.



As more and more states move to legalize marijuana for recreational and therapeutic use, the safety community is grappling with the threat of marijuana-impaired driving. Read More »