Fiction: It's Safe to Drive While High

Fact: Marijuana and other drugs are involved in many traffic accidents and fatalities.

Many people are surprised to find out that after alcohol, marijuana is the next most prevalent substance found in impaired drivers. When used together, marijuana and alcohol have a significant impact on a driver's ability to perform.

According to government surveys that ask young people about their drug use patterns, about 600,000 high school seniors drive after smoking marijuana. 38,000 seniors told surveyors that they had been involved in accidents while driving under the influence of marijuana. And other surveys conducted by MADD and the Liberty Mutual insurance company revealed that many teenagers (41%) were not concerned about driving after taking drugs.

Medical data indicates a connection between drugged driving and accidents—a study of patients in a shock-trauma unit who had been in collisions revealed that 15% of those who had been driving a car or motorcycle had been smoking marijuana and another 17% had both THC and alcohol in their blood.

Recent research conducted by the University of Auckland, New Zealand, proves the link between marijuana use and car accidents. The research found that habitual cannabis users were 9.5 times more likely to be involved in crashes, with 5.6% of people who had crashed having taken the drug, compared to 0.5% of the control group. ("Marijuana Use and Car Crash Injury," The George Institute for International Health, Sydney, 2004).

A new study published by researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center Shock Trauma Center indicates that during a 90-day study, about half of the drivers admitted to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center tested positive for drugs other than alcohol. Additionally, one in four drivers admitted to the shock trauma unit tested positive for marijuana. (Published in October, 2005). 

Drugged Driving Stories

Driving while high—on marijuana, pills, cocaine, or anything else—is a recipe for disaster. Learn more about the consequences of drugged driving. Real stories tell why:

  • Michael Scott Harper, 25, of Seattle, Washington, has been charged with vehicular homicide and vehicular assault for a fatal crash, the second accident in 13 months in which investigators say he was on drugs. Harper said he smoked "sherm," a cigarette dipped in PCP, before driving a Cadillac into a utility pole in the city's south end on August. 20, 2002, leaving 27-year old Aaron Coleman dead and George Patterson injured. Previously, Harper had been charged with hit-and-run and reckless driving for slamming into two cars and a tree in the city, injuring a different passenger, in the south end in July 2001. Police say he had PCP in his system at that time, too.1
  • Four children and the driver died in April 2002 when a Tippy Toes Learning Academy van veered off a bustling freeway and hit a concrete bridge abutment. Investigators say the driver, Wesley Hudson, regularly smoked marijuana, and that the kids nicknamed him "Smokey." He was found with 1.9 grams of pot in his pocket at the crash scene.2
  • Duane Baehler, 47, of Tulsa , Oklahoma , who was driving a truck involved in a fiery crash that killed his teenage son had methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana in his system, police said. The accident happened in Evansville , Indiana.3
  • A La Habra , California , man, Ledell Daniel, 46, was found guilty of murder for killing a retired Marine while driving high on PCP. Daniel had already served five years in prison for killing a 20-year old woman in a Long Beach accident in 1991, in which he was also found to be under the influence of PCP.4
  • The driver of a charter bus that on May 9, 1999 , crashed and killed 22 people was fired from bus companies in 1989 and 1996 after testing positive for marijuana four times. A federal investigator also confirmed a report that Frank Bedell, 46, tested positive for marijuana when he was hospitalized after the bus veered off a highway in New Orleans, Louisiana and plunged into an embankment.5
  • A parolee who admitted he fell asleep while driving a school bus that crashed tested positive for cocaine and marijuana use, state parole officials said. He injured 13 of the 25 students he was driving to school.6
  • A former nurse's aide was convicted of murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison for hitting a homeless man with her car and driving home with his mangled body in the windshield. The incident happened after a night of drinking, smoking pot, and taking Ecstasy. After arriving home, the woman parked her car, with the man still lodged in her windshield, and left him there until his death.7
  • A driver in Washington State was recently charged with hitting a man with his car, driving four blocks with the victim lodged in the windshield, then dumping the man in the street and driving away. Court papers alleged that the driver was driving high on methamphetamine.8
  • A 25-year old Glen Burnie , Maryland , man, Joseph Michael Glardon, Jr., pleaded guilty to homicide by automobile while under the influence of drugs in a November 9, 2002 crash that killed 83-year old Viola DeLuca of Niagara Falls, New York, and her four relatives. Glardon tested positive for cocaine and barbiturates after the crash.9

Drugged Driving

Source Information

1Associated Press, July 3, 2003

2Memphis [ Tennessee ] Commercial Appeal, July 2, 2003

3Associated Press State and Local Wire, June 1, 2003

4Source: Orange County [CA] Register, February 7, 2003

5Orange County (CA) Register, May 14, 1999; April 11, 2002 hearing by House Transportation Subcommittee of Appropriations Committee: Testimony by Marion Blakey, Chairman of the NTSB

6Arkansas Democrat Gazette, December 5, 2001

7ABC News transcript, June 28, 2003; Washington Post [AP], June 26, 2003; Calgary [ Alberta , Canada ] Herald, March 13, 2002

8Associated Press, November 8, 2003

9Baltimore Sun, August 20, 2003