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Drugs and Driving: A Dangerous Collision



Driving impaired is never a good idea, but driving while under the influence of drugs is even worse. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), approximately one out of every 10 people who drive has driven while they were high on drugs or alcohol. 

Driving while impaired by drugs poses as big a threat to motorists as drunk driving does, with some studies showing that more fatal car accidents are caused by drug use than alcohol use. 

So how do you know if you’re driving while impaired? What types of impairment can drugs cause? 

And what exactly are some common illegal and prescription medications that cause impairment? Keep reading to learn all about the dangers associated with being under the influence behind the wheel.


Table of Contents

Driving while under the influence of drugs is illegal and poses dangers on the road

It’s illegal in all states and countries of the world for drivers to operate their vehicles while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 

The penalties for this crime vary from state to state and from country to country, but a first-time offense will usually result in fines, mandatory community service, and/or jail time.

Driving under the influence of any substance, whether it be alcohol or drugs, can impair one’s ability to drive safely and lead to serious accidents that could result in injury or even death. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in America for example, about 10% of fatal car crashes involve a driver who was using prescription opioids at the time of impact. 

This number is alarming when you consider that only 1%–2% of Americans regularly use heroin—and even fewer use heroin while driving!


There are two main types of impairment

Unfortunately, there are two main types of impairment. The first is a physical impairment, which refers to an actual physical or mental condition that impairs a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. 

For example, the use of alcohol and/or drugs can cause intoxication—a state in which one’s reflexes are slowed and judgment is impaired.

The second type of impairment is called “mental impairment.” Mental conditions such as sleep deprivation or dementia can also impair a driver’s ability to drive safely.


Several driving-related impairments were explained

Illegal drugs account for a significant number of driving-related impairments. Many illicit drugs can cause impairment in a variety of ways. 

Some drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine, affect your ability to drive by slowing down your reaction time and making you feel drowsy or disoriented. 

Other drugs like methamphetamines can make you more alert, but they also increase anxiety and cause irregular heartbeats that could lead to seizures while driving.

Illegal drug use has been identified as the most common cause of impaired driving after drinking alcohol (NHTSA). 

The risks associated with mixing these two substances are even more significant than just combining them: by themselves, each substance may have different effects on a person’s ability to drive safely but when combined they create an even more dangerous situation because their effects combine into something unpredictable and potentially fatal!


Prescription drugs are also associated with impaired driving

You may be aware that prescription drugs can cause impairment. But did you know they can also contribute to impaired driving?

In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Prescription drugs are now responsible for more fatal overdoses than illegal drugs.” 

The reason for this is that many people believe prescription drugs are safe and therefore don’t think twice about taking them before getting behind the wheel of a car. 

In reality, however, even when taken as prescribed and at recommended doses, some medications can impair a person’s ability to drive safely. 

NIDA goes on to report that over 50% of drivers involved in fatal crashes had one or more substances in their system—and one-in-four were under the influence of two or more substances at the time of their crash!

What’s more, most driver fatalities involve some impairment from alcohol or other drugs—not just alcohol alone! 

It’s essential never to get behind the wheel when there has been any amount consumed within several hours before driving because it will affect your reaction time and judgment skills which could lead to an accident or injury caused by another driver who was also under the influence (or even worse).


Over-the-counter medications can cause impairment, too

While many of us know that prescription drugs can impair our driving ability, we may not realize that over-the-counter medications can have similar effects. 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, common over-the-counter medications like antihistamines and decongestants affect “sleepiness, driving performance, and reaction time.”

So how does this apply to you? If you take any of these drugs regularly, check with your doctor about how much it will affect your ability to drive safely before getting behind the wheel. 

And if you’re stopped for suspected impaired driving while taking one of these medications, make sure not to consent to a breathalyzer test

—it’s illegal in most states without consent from an attorney or doctor (though some states do allow police officers who suspect impairment by nonalcoholic substances like prescription or OTC drugs). 

If they do administer a blood alcohol test anyway, consider speaking with an attorney before submitting yourself because the results won’t be admissible in court due to lack of evidence provided by a physician explaining why drugs were prescribed for use during treatment.”


Mixing alcohol with other drugs is a recipe for disaster

Mixing alcohol with other drugs is dangerous, as it can lead to serious health problems or death. Alcohol and other drugs interact in many ways, some of which you may not even realize. 

For example, you might think that a drug like marijuana won’t cause any problems when mixed with alcohol because it’s “natural” or “herbal.” 

But marijuana contains THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which works just like any other mind-altering substance—it affects your brain by tricking it into thinking that THC is an important chemical. 

And if you consume too much of either substance at once, you could end up very sick or dead!


Driving when impaired is inherently dangerous

When you’re driving a vehicle, your ability to function is directly related to how alert and focused you are. 

If the drugs in your system impair this ability, it increases the risk of an accident.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be dangerous for many reasons:

  • Drugs affect people differently. A drug that affects one person may not affect another in the same way. The dosage and method of ingestion are important factors in determining how a person reacts to a drug—whether they feel high or sober, sleepy or energized—and those reactions vary from person to person.
  • Drugs interact with each other differently than alcohol does with other types of medications; there is no standard rule for combining them because each combination can have different effects on each driver’s body chemistry as well as their judgment about driving safely when impaired by these substances (or any combination thereof).



In conclusion, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a serious issue that should be taken into consideration. 

The effects of these substances are dangerous not only for the driver but also for other road users (pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists). 

Therefore, we must all take measures to prevent this type of accident from happening in our lives.


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