Drugs and Driving: Why It’s a Problem, and Why It’s Getting Worse

Driving under the influence is illegal in all 50 states. The problem is, many drivers don’t understand what being “under the influence” really means. People tend to think of alcohol, but drug-impaired driving can be just as dangerous. What’s more, the problem is getting worse. 

As marijuana laws change throughout the country, the number of impaired drivers is increasing, too. In Washington, for example, the number of drivers who test positive for marijuana after a fatal crash has doubled since the state legalized it in 2012, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

However, marijuana isn’t the only drug that poses a serious road safety risk. The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found there’s been a significant increase in the presence of drugs found in drivers who were seriously and fatally injured in crashes. 

To help you stay safe, we take a closer look at the different forms of drug-impaired driving and why they’re so dangerous. 

Substances That Can Cause Impaired Driving

Over-the-Counter Drugs

Though seemingly harmless, many over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can affect your ability to drive safely. Some of the most common include antihistamines (medicines used for colds and allergies) and anti-emetics (used to treat nausea, motion sickness, and more). These and other OTC products will always include a warning if they may cause impaired driving, so make sure to read every label thoroughly. 

Illicit Drugs

Different illegal drugs have different, but always dangerous, effects on drivers. Drivers under the influence of cocaine or methamphetamine may become more aggressive while driving. Other illicit substances can cause severe drowsiness. Despite the dangers, driving after consuming illegal drugs is still all too common. In 2018, 12.6 million people aged 16 or older drove under the influence of illicit drugs.

Prescription Drugs

Antidepressants, opioids, and other types of prescription drugs may cause impairment and make you unfit to drive. If you’ve been prescribed a new drug, or are increasing the dosage of your current medicine, be sure to clarify with your doctor whether you’ll be able to operate a vehicle. 


Cannabis laws in the United States are constantly changing, but it’s always illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis. Scientific studies have shown that cannabis slows your reaction times, impairs cognitive function, and makes it difficult to multitask—a critical driving skill. 

What Are the Dangers? 

Just like alcohol, drugs can lead to dangerous driving behavior and significantly increase your chances of getting injured in a car accident—or worse. Here are some facts showing just how dangerous drugged driving can be.   

  • Being under the influence of opioids can double your risk of being in a car crash.
  • Studies have shown drivers with THC in their system are twice as likely to cause a fatal crash or be killed in one.
  • A study conducted in 2020 showed that 56% of drivers involved in deadly crashes were under the influence of at least one drug. 
  • In 2018, 19.7% of drivers who drove under the influence tested positive for opioids
  • Only 28% of drivers consider driving under the influence of prescription drugs a serious threat

It’s Not Just a Safety Problem. It’s a Legal One.

In Arizona, drugged driving comes with serious legal consequences. If you’re suspected of drugged driving during a field sobriety test, you’ll need to undergo a chemical test, which can result in the following consequences.


JAIL Min. 24 hours to 10 days Min. 30 days to 90 days Min. 4 months
FINES & PENALTIES $250 base fine $500 base fine $750 base fine
LICENSE SUSPENSION 90 days to 1 year 1 year 1 year


Source: https://www.azdps.gov/safety/impaired-driving

The Takeaway?

Drug-impaired driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving and should always be avoided. Follow these crucial tips to keep yourself and others safe.

  • Have a designated sober driver if you’ll be using an impairing drug
  • Don’t let your friends drive if they’ve consumed an impairing drug
  • Always wear a seatbelt and drive defensively to protect yourself from impaired drivers.

Want to learn more about how you can stay safe on the road? Register for one of our defensive driving courses today.