30 Million Americans Admit They Drive Drunk

10 Million More Get Behind the Wheel Under the Influence of Illicit Drugs, New Study Finds

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Dec. 10, 2010 -- About 30 million Americans a year admit to driving while drunk, and 10 million more say they get behind the wheel when under the influence of illicit drugs, according to new federal research.

On average, 13.2% of all people aged 16 and older drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year, and 4.3% drove while on illicit drugs, says a new survey from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, also known as SAMHSA.

Although the rate of drunk and drugged driving decreased slightly in the past few years, from 14.6% to 13.2%, the problem is still enormous and steps need to be found to reduce it more, researchers say.

Rates of Drunk and Drugged Drivers Drop Slightly

The rate of drugged driving also dropped, from 4.8% of drivers in 2002-2005 to 4.3% in 2006-2009, according to the SAMHSA report. “Thousands of people die each year as a result of drunk and drugged driving, and the lives of family members and friends left behind are forever scarred,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, JD, says in a news release. “Some progress has been made in reducing the levels of drunk and drugged driving through education, enhanced law enforcement, and public outreach efforts.”

Still, she says, the nation “must continue to work to prevent this menace and confront these dangerous drivers in an aggressive way.”

Alarming Findings

Gil Kerlikowske, MA, director of National Drug Control Policy, says the survey reveals that “an alarmingly high percentage of Americans” drive with drugs in their systems.

“At a time when drug abuse is on the rise, it is crucial that communities act today to address the threat of drugged driving as we work to employ more targeted enforcement and develop better tools to detect the presence of drugs among drivers,” he says in the news release.

The national survey found significant differences in substance use and driving among the states.

Among key findings:

  • States with the highest levels of drunk driving in the past year were Wisconsin, 23.7%, and North Dakota, 22.4%.
  • The highest rates of drugged driving in the past year were in Rhode Island, 7.8%, and Vermont, 6.6%.
  • States with the lowest rates of drunk driving were Utah at 7.4% and Mississippi at 8.7%.
  • Iowa at 2.9% and New Jersey at 3.2% had the lowest levels of drugged driving in the past year.


Many Young People Not Getting the Message About Dangers of Intoxication

Researchers say that rates of drunk and drugged driving differed among age groups, with 19.5% of people aged 16 to 25 saying they drove drunk, compared to 11.8% of people 26 and older.

Also, people aged 16 to 25 had a much higher rate of driving while on illicit drugs, 11.4%, compared to 2.8% of people 26 and older.

The findings were based on responses from more than 423,000 people 16 and over.

Other important findings of the federal research:

  • Of the 10 states with the highest drunk driving rates, five were in the Midwest: Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Three were in the Northeast: Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. And two were in the West: Montana and Wyoming.
  • Of the nine states with the lowest rates of drunk driving, four were in the South: Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and West Virginia; three were in the West: Idaho, New Mexico, and Utah; two were in the Northeast: New Jersey and New York.
  • 12 states, along with the country as a whole, showed significant reductions in drunk driving rates in the two periods examined.

State 2002-2005 2006-2009

Alaska 14.8% 11.1

Florida 13.7 10.9

Idaho 14.5 10.3

Illinois 16.1 14.7

Maryland 14.9 10.7

Michigan 18.7 15.9

Mississippi 11.4 8.7

Missouri 18.6 14.8

New Mexico 13.9 10.4

Pennsylvania 14.4 11.8

Texas 15.4 13.9

Washington 15.3 12.1

Study authors say the prevalence of impaired driving, especially in the 16-25 age group, indicates a need for continued efforts to educate drivers about the dangers. They suggest sobriety checkpoints, training for people who sell alcohol, and treatment for people convicted of impaired driving.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on December 09, 2010



News release, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

News release, National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

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