30 Million Americans Drive Drunk; 10 Million Drive Drugged

Posted on December 13th, 2010
Posted in Drunk Driving

An average of 13.2% of all American drivers drove under the influence of alcohol, and an average 4.3% drove under the influence of an illicit substance within the past year, according to a new survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Approximately 40 million drivers each year are driving under the influence of an intoxicating substance—a dangerous trend that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says causes 33% of all motor vehicle fatalities.

These national averages—based on SAMHSA’s annual National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) collected from 423,000 Americans ages 16 years and older between 2006 and 2009—actually reflect a slight decline in the country’s levels of drunk and drugged driving. Compared to the same data collected between 2002 and 2005, the nation’s rate of drunk driving incidents dropped by 1.4% while the rate of drugged driving incidents dropped by 0.5% by 2009. SAMHSA reports that twelve states experienced decreases in the amount of drunk driving incidents, and seven states saw decreases in the amount of drugged driving incidents within the past year. While these reductions may indicate that efforts to curb drunk and drugged driving across the U.S. have made some progress, a high number of incidents are still occurring and remain a great risk to the public’s safety. The organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) states that 10,839 deaths occurred in 2009 as the result of drunk driving accidents.

As the national averages of past-year drunk and drugged driving incidents experienced reductions, the levels among individual states actually varied widely. For example, states such as Utah and Mississippi showed the lowest levels of drunk driving within the nation (7.4% and 8.7% respectively). Four of the states with the lowest incidences of drunk driving, in fact, had recently passed legislation for the enforcement of ignition interlock devices in the vehicles of drunk driving offenders, a law that may have contributed to these state declines. Yet states like Wisconsin—where driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.08 is not considered a criminal offense—and North Dakota had the highest incident rates of drunk driving (23.7% and 22.4% respectively). Because some states’ levels of drunk driving are exceeding the 20% margin, the national average of 13.2% might actually skew the realistic rate of drunk driving that occurs within certain regions. Likewise, Iowa and New Jersey displayed the lowest rates of drugged driving incidents (2.9% and 3.2%) within the past year, but Rhode Island (7.8%) and Vermont (6.6%) had the highest rates of drugged driving.

Similarly, the rates of drunk and drugged driving varied greatly among age groups, with drivers between the ages of 16 and 25 years composing the majority of incidents. According to the survey’s data, younger drivers reported a higher rate of drunk driving incidents (19.5%) compared to adults ages 26 years and older (11.8%). Younger drivers were also responsible for a significantly higher rate of drugged driving incidents (11.4%) than their older counterparts (2.8%).

SAMSHA cites the use of educational programs, improved law enforcement, and public outreach services among communities to have helped contribute to this slight decline in drunk and drugged driving rates on a national scale, and encourages communities to uphold their efforts to protect the public from this danger. Furthermore, MADD is pushing individual states to pass legislation on the enforcement of ignition interlock devices on all convicted drunk driving offenders to help deter the rate of injuries and deaths caused by reckless drunk and drugged driving. Also, the Office on National Drug Control Policy referred to SAMHSA’s report as an alarming indication that drunk driving is not the only threat to public safety on the roads, but drugged driving as well. With the national rate of drug use continuing to grow, communities and their policymakers should remain aware of the rates of both drunk and drugged driving among their regions in order to create effective preventive strategies and outreach programs.

Source: HealthDay, Steven Reinberg, 40 Million in US Driving Drunk or Drugged, December 9, 2010

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