While substance abuse is directly detrimental to the specific user's health and overall well-being, the issue becomes a societal hazard when getting behind the wheel of a vehicle.
According to the CDC, an average of 30 American's die every day from alcohol related crashes. In 2010, 1.4 million drivers were arrested for being under the influence, which is roughly 1 percent of the 112 million American's who self-reported that they had had an episode of impaired driving.
With statistical totals of this magnitude, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a vested interest in following the national trends of impaired driving. A recent study entitled, "2014 Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers," found that drivers with alcohol in their systems had decreased by more than one-third since 2007, but drivers with drugs or other inhibiting chemicals in their systems had increased to a 1 to 4 ratio.
Naturally, it is extremely difficult to classify or even narrow down the wide array of 'inhibiting chemicals' that drivers are testing positive for. Drunk driving has rather simple symptoms that have been clearly defined. Driving under the influence of marijuana, methamphetamines, opiates, pharmaceuticals, hallucinogens or stimulants creates an impossible classification process.
Since marijuana usage is arguably the most popular and widely used substance, the NHTSA has focused recent research on correlating whether or not there is a bridge between smoking marijuana and car crashes. The study found that pot users were 25 percent more likely to be involved in a car accident than a sober driver, but upon further investigation the statistics were found to be somewhat misleading.
When researchers factored in age and gender to their statistical analysis they found that young men were the most likely group to be involved in car crashes, but also the most likely to under the influence of marijuana. The objective was to see if there was a link between marijuana and car crashes, but the demographics make it all but impossible to tell if age or substance is the major factor in the crash.
"Once we controlled for those demographic factors, we did not find a significantly higher crash risk among marijuana users as compared to those who did not have marijuana in their system," NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said.
The issue grows even more complex when trying to classify different levels of chemically impaired driving. A Breathalyzer test will immediately determine the severity of a person's alcohol intake, but it is far more difficult to conclude "how high" an individual is. There are a slew of factors that go into the issue depending on the substance and the amount ingested.
Overall what can be concluded is that the recent NHTSA studies show signs of progress when it comes to impaired driving. While there isn't necessarily a preferable chemical to be ingesting behind the wheel of a vehicle, alcohol can be looked at as having the most potential for negative impact. Since the research clearly shows that drunk driving statistics are down from their previous totals, education as well as legislation seem to be having a positive effect.
With drunk driving on the decline the NHTSA will likely continue to research and lobby for an increased focus on driving while under the influence of other chemicals. In 2007 survey research showed that 16.3 percent drivers were under the influence of a substance, but in 2014 the total had jumped to 20 percent. Drivers with marijuana in their systems also increased from 9 percent in 2007 to 13 percent in 2014.
As stated earlier, driving under the influence of anything can be extremely dangerous seeing as how thousands of pounds of metal traveling at high rates of speed possess a physics nightmare for the driver and anyone else within eyeshot. While the NHTSA research looks to be promising there is still a great deal to be done to ensure the safety of all drivers at all times.
Chad Arias has a B.A. in journalism and is a contributor for the Latino Post and Opposing Views. In his free time, Arias writes poetry, short stories and is currently working on a novel detailing his experiences with substance abuse. He is most interested on the philosophical and psychological aspects of the subject.