Report Urges National, State Action On Drugged Driving

By  //  October 10, 2015

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Legalized Marijuana, Rx Drug Abuse Makes Drugged-Driving Study High Priority

EDITOR’S NOTE: With proponents of the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative again attempting to get an initiated constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana on the November 2016 ballot, it is imperative to have as much evidence-based information about the impact of that as possible.

Dr. Jim Hedlund, lead author of this report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility ( suggests that impairment from drugs while driving is increasing, driven in part by the states that legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, and by the substantial increase of both legal and illegal use of prescription pain killers.

driving and drugs
According to the GHSA, drivers who tested positive for marijuana or illegal drugs rose from 12.4 percent in 2007 to 15.1 percent in 2013 and 2014

Drug use by drivers is a mounting concern, particularly in light of more permissive marijuana laws (now legal for medical use in D.C. and 23 states and recreational use in four states and D.C.) and an increase in prescription drug abuse (the amount of prescription painkillers dispensed in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1999).


Any drug – whether illegal, filled by a prescription, or over-the-counter – can impair a person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle. Unfortunately, many individuals taking these drugs also drive.

The most recent national data show drugged driving is increasing while drunk driving is declining.


The percentage of fatally-injured drivers testing positive for drugs – 40 percent – is almost the same as those testing positive for any alcohol.

The most recent roadside survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 22 percent of drivers tested positive for some drug or medication.


Both states and the federal government are under increased pressure to address drug-impaired driving, but the extent of drug impairment as a contributing factor in crashes is still unclear, and little is known about effective prevention strategies.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility ( released a first-of-its-kind comprehensive report about drug use on our nation’s roadways, providing recommendations to confront this complex highway safety issue.

no marijuana road sign
The GHSA and the NHTSA suggest that the federal government take a leadership role in providing education and guidance in best practices to prevent marijauna-impaired driving similar to that of drunk driving and seat belt use.

“Every state must take steps to reduce drug-impaired driving, regardless of the legal status of marijuana,” said Jonathan Adkins, Executive Director of GHSA.

“This is the first report to provide states and other stakeholders with the information they need. And we encourage NHTSA to issue guidance on best practices to prevent marijuana-impaired driving. We look to the federal government to take a leadership role in this issue similar to that of drunk driving and seat belt use.”


“When drug use is combined with alcohol, the risk of a crash is increased dramatically,” said President and CEO Ralph Blackman.

“This is why it’s so important to understand the scope of the problem and, more importantly, provide solutions to address it.”

Dr. Jim Hedlund, formerly a senior NHTSA official, researched the topic and authored the new report and recommendations. GHSA and assembled an advisory panel of experts that included state officials, researchers and national organizations that guided the project.


At the heart of the report are action items states can take on a broad spectrum of issues. One innovative public/private initiative highlighted is Drugged Driving=Done Driving, a new statewide pilot program in Ohio that educates young drivers about the risks of driving under the influence of drugs. It includes peer-to-peer efforts, public service announcements, grassroots engagement with youth and traffic safety stakeholders and has the support of law enforcement and political leadership across the state.

Other recommendations that states can use to help guide their response to drug-impaired driving include the following elements:

  • Planning – Assess the data and understand what is happening now.
  • Laws and Sanctions – Examine and update drug-impaired driving laws.
  • Training – Provide training to law enforcement, prosecutors and judges.
  • Testing – Test all fatally-injured drivers for the presence of drugs.
  • Prosecution and Adjudication – Screen and assess all offenders to identify any drug or alcohol problems or underlying mental health issues and refer offenders to treatment if needed.
  • Data – Track all alcohol- and drug-impaired driver crash data separately to best assess the problem.


The report also identifies actions needed at the federal level to support state efforts.

These include: a national drugged driving education campaign, as recommended by the Government Accountability Office; resources for prosecutors, judges and legislators; standardized roadside testing policies and devices; data collection guidelines; and continued research on the effects of drugged driving laws and programs as well as the level of impairment produced by different concentrations of the most commonly used drugs.

Research studies have shown negative effects of marijuana on drivers, including an increase in lane weaving and poor reaction time and attention to the road. Use of alcohol with marijuana made drivers more impaired, causing even more lane weaving.
Research studies have shown negative effects of marijuana on drivers, including an increase in lane weaving and poor reaction time and attention to the road. Use of alcohol with marijuana made drivers more impaired, causing even more lane weaving.

“While this report summarizes the research and data available, it also highlights how much remains unknown,” said Hedlund.

“For example, we still don’t know with certainty how much of a specific drug will cause impairment or if such a relationship can even be defined. Many states do not have the data to measure their drug-impaired driving scope or characteristics. The recommendations in the report will help states refine and augment their efforts to detect and deter drug-impaired drivers.”

An interactive PDF version of the report and infographics are available online.


news_newsrelease_headerThe Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is a nonprofit association representing the highway safety offices of states, territories, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. GHSA provides leadership and representation for the states and territories to improve traffic safety, influence national policy, enhance program management and promote best practices. Its members are appointed by their Governors to administer federal and state highway safety funds and implement state highway safety plans. Contact GHSA at 202-789-0942 or visit Find us on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter at @GHSAHQ.


FAAR1Formerly known as The Century Council, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility ( is a national not-for-profit that leads the fight to eliminate drunk driving and underage drinking and is funded by the following distillers: Bacardi U.S.A., Inc.; Beam Suntory Inc.; Brown-Forman; Constellation Brands, Inc.; DIAGEO; Edrington; Hood River Distillers, Inc.; and Pernod Ricard USA. For nearly 25 years, has transformed countless lives through programs that bring individuals, families and communities together to guide a lifetime of conversations around alcohol responsibility and offering proven strategies to stop impaired driving. To learn more, please visit us at and follow us on Twitter at @goFAAR.