NHTSA Research Finds Increased Drug Use in Auto Fatalities

March 3, 2017

According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 1 in 5 drivers or 20 percent of those killed in car crashes last year, tested positive for drugs in their system.

Although the Administration was not prepared to say that the drugs caused the accidents, the findings do point to a growing problem with driving while impaired by substances other than alcohol.

In 2009, drugs were reported in 4,000 drivers of the 22,000 who died behind the wheel during the year. In 2005, however, chemical substances were found in only 13 percent of 27,000 driver fatalities.

The tests look for both legal and illegal drugs including, but not limited to, methadone, morphine, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, marijuana, prescription drugs, and various inhalants. The amount of each substance that lingers in the body over time varies, making it unclear in some instances exactly when the driver used the substance in relation to the accident.

Gil Kerlikowske, the White House Drug Policy Director said the research was a good initial attempt to understand drug use and driving. “It’s very clear that we’ve got a significant problem,” said Kerlikowske. “We’ve made great progress on alcohol-impaired driving through education and enforcement. There’s just no reason we won’t be able to make progress in this area once we start bringing it to people’s attention and we start doing the enforcement that’s needed.”