The Impact of Polysubstance Impaired Driving

Polysubstance impaired driving has become a rising concern due to the increasing rates of car accidents, especially among young adults. Polysubstance use involves consuming more than one kind of drug, simultaneously or at different times. It may include alcohol, hard drugs, over-the-counter drugs, prescription medications, and substances like paint, petrol, and inhalants.

Taking a combination of drugs and alcohol usually results in multiplied effects. It interferes with the brain’s and body’s normal functioning and causes even the most competent drivers to drive recklessly.

Why Is Polysubstance Impaired Driving Risky?

Different drugs have varied effects on driving skills. Alcohol, for instance, reduces alertness and lowers motor coordination. Marijuana slackens reaction time, reduces coordination, and weakens the perception of distance and time. Hard drugs, like cocaine, make drivers aggressive and careless. Prescription medications like opioids and benzodiazepines can weaken cognitive functioning and cause dizziness as well as drowsiness.

These side effects can result in car accidents. When drivers use more than one of these drugs, all at once or at different times, the effects are multiplied. This increases their risk of causing severe vehicle crashes.

Various studies have demonstrated that marijuana slows reaction time, reduces concentration on the road, and increases lane weaving. Taking both alcohol and marijuana leads to more impairment and a dramatic increase in lane weaving. For this reason, a driver may face a DUI charge if both alcohol and marijuana are found in his or her blood or urine, even if both amounts are below the state’s accepted level of impaired driving.

How Regularly Does Polysubstance Impaired Driving Cause Accidents?

Determining how many accidents are caused by polysubstance impaired driving is difficult due to the following reasons:

  • Lack of an effective roadside test for levels of a drug in the body.
  • Lack of an acceptable level of polysubstance impairment.
  • Certain drugs can remain in the user’s system for several days or even weeks after consumption. Accurately determining when such a drug was taken is difficult. This, in turn, makes it hard to determine how and if it interferes with driving.
  • Law enforcement officers rarely test for other drugs if the alcohol test shows drivers have exceeded the acceptable blood alcohol level. This is because there is already sufficient ground for a DUI charge.
  • Many drivers involved in crashes usually return positive tests for both drugs and alcohol, which makes identifying the substance that had more effect a difficult task.

The Governors Highway Safety Association, however, reports that drivers who suffered fatal injuries in 2016 returned positive tests for drugs. Moreover, more than half of those drivers had two or more drugs in their system.

How Many People Drive Under the Influence of Drugs?

A National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted in 2018 found that 20.5 million individuals of ages 16 and above drove while drunk on alcohol and 12.6 million drove while high on illegal drugs. The survey also revealed that men have higher odds of driving while intoxicated than women. A greater percentage of adults between 21 and 25 years drive after drinking alcohol or using drugs than do adults aged 26 or above and young adults of 16 to 20 years.