There’s good news on the alcohol front, with two separate government studies reporting a drop in the numbers of people drinking and driving. Both studies were done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and used the surprising tactic of offering anonymous checkpoints where drivers could participate in the survey without fear of retribution if they had unsafe substances in their systems.
There were more than 300 sites selected, and more than 9,000 drivers who participated. Though they’re not broadly known about, surveys like this have been quietly conducted about every eight years since 1973. This latest pair of reports covers data for the 2013-2014 survey year. Both of these studies turned up good and bad news, but the good seems to outweigh the bad.
These studies are reporting an increase in the number of people driving under the influence of marijuana and other drugs. In the latest round of surveying, 12.6% of drivers were found to be under the influence of marijuana, which is about a 50% increase since 2007. In addition to that, 22% of drivers tested positive for some kind of hazardous drug whether legal or illegal. This category includes things like prescription medications which carry warnings against operating heavy machinery.
The second study found that people driving under the influence of marijuana are more likely to get into car accidents than the users of any other type of drug studied—but this may be because the average marijuana user is in the younger demographic, which suffers more car accidents anyway. The age group which has the most accidents per capita is from 18 to 21 years old. This is arguably also the age group most likely to think getting high and driving somewhere is an acceptable idea.
This is the part that has the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration excited: the number of drunk drivers has dropped significantly. One of the studies found that since 2007, the number of drivers with alcohol in their systems dropped by almost 33%. This means that on weekend nights, only 8% of drivers had alcohol in their systems. Further, out of those 8% of drivers, only a smaller percentage (1.5%) were found to be over the legal limit while driving.
Actually, since drunk driving statistics have first been tracked (starting in 1982) there has been a steady decrease in drunk driving fatalities. In 2000, about 1400 fatal car accidents were caused by drunk drivers, killing an estimated 10,076 people. While this number is obviously unacceptably high, it is actually down 52% from 1982, when over 21,000 people were killed in crashes related to drinking.
In the 1990s The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility was founded, and since then the number of drunk driving fatalities has declined by about 36% if strictly examining the number of people who have died. However, the population of the United States has been growing. When compared against the population of the country, there has been a 49% decrease in deaths.
What does all this mean? In short, the safety campaigns are winning!
Of course, any time drunk driving is mentioned, it’s good to also mention some safety precautions. Designated drivers, pre-determined drunk limits (like “I will switch to water after two glasses of wine,”) or taking a taxi after drinking are all sensible precautions. Aside from the obvious risk of injuries or property damage to yourself or others, the penalties for drunk driving are severe, especially for repeat offenders. That’s just one more reason not to court the trouble. Be part of the winning trend and be safe on the roads!