Study: Majority of Car Crash Victims Had Drugs or Alcohol in Their Systems

Driving under the influence (DUI) or impaired driving occurs when an individual operates a vehicle after imbibing alcohol or drugs. These include cannabis, illicit drugs, and opioids. Some prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications can also lead to impaired driving.

In December 2022, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published an extensive study examining drug and alcohol prevalence among 7,279 victims of motor vehicle crashes. The report was “Alcohol and Drug Prevalence Among Seriously or Fatally Injured Road Users.” It found that 55.8 percent of injured or killed car crash victims had drugs or alcohol in their system.

These findings appear to reflect recent events. For instance, a fatal crash in September 2022 involved an alleged DUI driver of a 2003 Honda. The Honda vehicle crashed with a 2017 Acura, causing one fatality and several injuries. The police arrested the 27-year-old driver on suspicion of DUI and vehicular manslaughter.

Another incident of drunk driving causing devastating effects occurred in November 2022. The alleged drunk driver of a semi-truck ran a red light and collided with a bus. The collision injured 16 varsity hockey players from Illinois. Moreover, the high-impact accident caused one student to be ejected from the bus.

Contact a car accident lawyer in case of drug or alcohol-related crashes. They can represent your case to get fair compensation for your injuries.

Have you recently been injured in an accident?

Key Takeaways
  • The 2022 NHTSA study revealed that 55.8 percent of crash-related injuries and fatalities tested positive for one or more selected drugs.
  • The possible liable parties in a DUI car accident include the providers of alcohol or drunk drivers.
  • Victims of a car crash due to DUI may receive economic, non-economic, and punitive damages.

2022 NHTSA Study on Impaired Driving and Fatal Crashes

The NHTSA study seeks to fill the gap in the highway safety regulators’ 2010 and 2011 studies, which estimated the accident risk associated with drug use. NHTSA’s project manager, Amy Berning, also mentioned The Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS)’s limitation due to inconsistent drug data from different states.

Drunk driving is only one of the factors considered in the study. The 2022 study also examined the prevalence of other drugs among injured drivers and victims, such as passengers and pedestrians. The topic became increasingly significant as several states and Washington legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Studies also show that almost three million people in the US use opioids, and 48.6 percent of Americans use prescription drugs. Due to these findings, the researchers noted the possible effect of opioid use and prescription drug intake among road users. Hence, they expanded the list of drugs that may increase the likelihood of motor vehicle crashes.


The highway safety regulators reviewed publicly available information from selected level-one trauma centers. It allowed highway safety regulators to quickly collect data from most injured road users. The hospitals are from the following locations:

  • Jacksonville, Florida
  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Miami, Florida
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Worcester, Massachusetts
  • Iowa City, Iowa
  • Sacramento, California

Each center has a different collection date, from September 2019 to July 2021. Moreover, the participants included injured drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. The researchers also considered other roadway users, such as moped and electric scooter riders.

The study used the Voxco platform to collect data, enabling research assistants to enter data offline or online. Once the tablet has an internet connection, Voxco sends the information to the central database. This process ensures a secure data transmission regarding victims of drug and alcohol-related crashes.

Hospital staff also used data collection cards to learn more about the incident. The card contained questions about the position in the crash, seat belt use, and the presence of an airbag. After the researchers verified the crash details, they destroyed the cards according to hospital protocols.

Selected drugs

The selected substances under scrutiny in the study included the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Cannabinoids
  • Stimulants
  • Sedatives
  • Opioids
  • Antidepressants
  • OTC medications

Alcohol is a depressant that affects a driver’s judgment, vision, reaction time, and color distinction. For instance, persons under the influence of alcohol may experience double vision, slowing their ability to focus on the road.

In the US, the legal limit of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08 percent. Hence, if you drive with a 0.08 percent BAC or higher, you can face DUI charges. But people with lower than 0.08 percent BAC can still be arrested if they fail the tests discussed later.

Researchers also tested participants for cannabis. It has a psychoactive constituent called Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which can affect judgment, coordination, and memory. Like alcohol, cannabis can slow a person’s reaction time. As a result, it can increase the risk of car crashes.

The researchers listed cocaine and methamphetamine as examples of stimulants. These illicit drugs can increase alertness and irritability. As a result, individuals positive for drug use can drive aggressively. On the other hand, sedatives can cause dizziness, loss of balance, poor coordination, and drowsiness. 

According to the study, opioids can affect the body’s psychomotor function, leading to slow reaction time and drowsiness. Types of opioids include morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, and tramadol. Unfortunately, drug withdrawal can increase impairment. Thus, people who suddenly stop taking opioids may be more prone to being involved in traffic crashes.

Psychiatrists prescribe antidepressants to treat mental health issues like anxiety and depression. However, their side effects include dizziness, headaches, and concentration difficulties. Persons who drive while feeling dizzy may lose control of their vehicle, leading to fatal crashes.


The researchers reported that 55.8 percent of crash-related injuries and fatalities tested positive for one or more of the selected substances. They measured drug prevalence based on several factors, such as position in the crash, sex, time of the accident, and incident date.

According to the study, 54.4 percent of involved drivers tested positive for drug use. Most impaired drivers have THC in their system, followed by alcohol, stimulants, opioids, and sedatives. Moreover, the hospital staff traced drug or alcohol use in 54.1 percent of passengers. The research also showed that 54.6 percent of pedestrians were positive for drug use.

In addition, the NHTSA found that 1,020 individuals in the age group of 21 to 34 years old were involved in impaired driving. Twenty-four percent of participants in this age group were alcohol-impaired while driving. On the other hand, 38.7 percent tested positive for drug-impaired driving, mainly cannabis.

Drivers involved in road accidents at night were likelier to test positive than those driving during the day. Also, impaired drivers were more prevalent during the weekends than on weekdays.

The study showed that 56.2 percent of car drivers in accidents tested positive for at least one of these substances. Motorcyclists ranked second with 54.3 percent. Pickup drivers ranked third at 54.2 percent, while SUV and van drivers accounted for 46.5 percent.


The pandemic affected the study’s data collection and processing since the collection dates ran from September 2019 to July 2021. For instance, restricted access to patients could have prevented hospital staff from filling out the data collection cards completely. Additionally, researchers only considered the prevalence of drug positivity among road accident victims brought to selected level-one trauma centers. 

DUI Laws and Penalties in Some US States

The NHTSA study highlights the importance of DUI prevention. States have varying laws regarding DUI violations but typically impose severe penalties.

These include jail time and fines ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Moreover, some states impose longer jail time than others. Below are the DUI laws and penalties in select states.


In Arizona, drivers with more than 0.08 percent BAC may face 24 hours or 10 days of prison for the first offense. Alcohol-impaired drivers may also pay a base fine of $250. Moreover, the state may suspend their license for 90 days to one year.

Arizona imposes a stricter limit of 0.04 percent for commercial vehicle drivers. A driver’s second offense may require law enforcement officers to detain them for 30 to 90 days. They may also pay a base fine of $500.

Moreover, a third offense imposes a minimum jail time of four months, a one-year license suspension, and a $750 base fine. A state-certified provider must also install an ignition interlock device (IID) in cases of first to third offenses.


First-time DUI offenders in Georgia pay $300 to $1,000 in fines and may spend up to one year in jail. They may have their license suspended for up to one year. The court may also order a minimum of 40 hours of community service. 

Apprehension for a second drug-impaired driving incident carries a mandatory 48 hours in jail and a minimum fine of $600. Georgia may also suspend their license for up to three years and order a clinical evaluation and treatment program.

A third-time offender gets 15 days in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, and mandatory 30 hours of community service. The state may also suspend their license for up to five years, and their vehicle’s license plate seized. Additionally, the state will publish the violator’s name, photo, and address in a local newspaper.


Section 28.35.030 of the Alaska Statutes states the penalties for a DUI. The offender may suffer imprisonment of at least 72 hours and license revocation for at least 90 days. Moreover, they may pay at least $1,500 in fines. The state-sponsored provider must also install an IID for at least six months.

In a second DUI, the person under the influence of alcohol or drugs may be imprisoned for at least 20 days. The state may collect up to $3,000, revoke the driver’s license for one year, and order the installation of IID for 12 months.

Subsequent convictions may lead to the forfeiture of motor vehicles and imprisonment for at least one year. The state may also permanently revoke the offender’s driver’s license.


Section 756 of the Oklahoma Statutes provides a legal limit of 0.08 percent BAC. Like the states mentioned above, Oklahoma requires the installation of an IID on every vehicle the offender owns. 

The car must have an IID for 18 months for the first DUI, but a second conviction requires the driver to use an IID for four years. As a result of additional convictions, the driver must use an IID for five years. The device can help prevent alcohol-related crashes.

A person arrested for drunk driving may pay up to $10,000. Moreover, they may be imprisoned for up to 10 years and experience revocation of their license for at least three years.

New York

In New York, imprisonment for DUI can range from 15 days to 7 years, depending on the number of violations. Offenders may also pay $1,000 to $10,000. In alcohol-related misdemeanors, the court may impose surcharges of up to $260. Aside from the fines, you must also pay thousands of dollars for towing, alcohol evaluation, and other costs.

Drivers may also be guilty of a class D felony in case of fatal crashes and vehicular assaults. It entails a license revocation of at least one year. Offenders may not operate any vehicle unless the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) reinstates their licenses.


On average, California may suspend an offender’s license for three months. Law enforcement officers may also detain offenders for six months. According to California Courts, a DUI conviction may cost an offender more than $45,000, including fines, towing fees, and reinstatement expenses.

The state also requires a drug treatment program and IID installation. These measures can help prevent motor vehicle crashes, especially among offenders. They also allow government agencies to track the driver’s progress. 

Determining Liability in a DUI Accident

The possible liable parties in a DUI crash include the alcohol providers and drunk drivers. Moreover, the requisites for proving responsibility vary depending on the state. 

Alcohol or drug providers

Some states have dram shop laws that impose liability on alcohol providers in case of accidents, such as traffic crashes. For instance, Section 04.21.020 of the Alaska Statutes provides the civil liability of persons who provide alcoholic beverages to minors under 21 and intoxicated persons.

Section 4-311 of the Arizona Revised Statutes describes the liability of a vendor if they serve alcohol to an intoxicated person or minor. If the intoxication directly caused an injury, fatality, or property damage, the alcohol provider may pay damages.

In comparison, Section 7.1-5-10-15 of the Indiana Code prohibits selling alcoholic beverages to intoxicated people. Under the section, authorities can charge an alcohol provider with a Class B misdemeanor. Section 35-50-3-3 provides imprisonment of not more than 180 days and a fine of not more than $1,000 for the misdemeanor.

Texas also allows lawsuits against vendors in case of alcohol-related crashes. For example, a jury awarded $301 billion in compensation to a family that lost two members due to DUI. However, they do not expect to receive the amount since the bar owners have insufficient resources to pay the damages. Still, it serves as a warning for drivers to avoid drugs and alcohol while operating a vehicle.

States without dram shop laws include South Dakota and Delaware. Hence, injured parties have no legal standing to file a case against the vendors. Most often, they can only demand damages from the impaired driver.

Drunk driver

A driver may be liable in a DUI accident if there is compelling proof of their intoxication. Your personal injury attorney must present one or more pieces of evidence, such as:

  • Failed sobriety tests
  • Failed blood test
  • Physical signs of drug or alcohol use
  • Witness testimony
  • Driver’s admission

For instance, your lawyer may ask bystanders if the other driver was intoxicated based on what happened before and during the car crash. Depending on the case, the police may consider running the red light and driving aggressively as signs of intoxication. An intoxicated or drugged driver may also show physical signs of intoxication, such as sweating, slurred speech, and bloodshot eyes. 

You must have an attorney to investigate the car crash, collect evidence, and negotiate with the insurance company. Through their services, you can have a higher chance of getting maximum compensation compared to when you will build the case by yourself.

Defenses in a DUI Car Accident

Suspected drunk drivers may argue that the tests yield inaccurate results, and there is evidence of this happening. The New York Times reported that breath analyzers could generate imprecise results. According to the daily newspaper, Massachusetts and New Jersey judges have rejected over 30,000 breath tests. Experts also found programming mistakes in these devices, which may lead to unfair judgment.

A defense lawyer may also challenge the blood test result. They may argue that the police or medical professional did not get the driver’s consent before taking the blood sample. Sometimes, the attorney will request an independent blood test for comparison.

In driving crashes where the officer notices signs of drug and alcohol use, they may require a field sobriety test. The officer will ask the suspected drunk driver to stand on one leg or walk in a straight line. If the driver fails to follow instructions, it may indicate DUI.

Recoverable Damages in a DUI Crash

The possible compensation in a DUI accident includes economic, non-economic, and punitive damages. Economic damages include reimbursement for hospital bills, loss of income, surgery costs, and rehabilitation fees. The immediate family can also demand funeral costs in case of traffic fatalities.

A car crash can cause emotional trauma, depending on the severity of the incident. Hence, the court can award non-economic damages, such as compensation for pain and suffering, anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life. Victims of drunk driving accidents can also receive punitive damages since DUI shows a driver’s recklessness.

However, the court may reduce the damages an injured driver or road user may receive. In states that follow comparative negligence, the plaintiff may only recover payment if they were less than 50 or 51 percent liable. For example, if the total award is $100,000 and the plaintiff is 40 percent liable, they may get $60,000.

But in a contributory negligence state, the court prevents the plaintiff from getting compensation if they also acted negligently, even by only one percent. Maryland, North Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia still follow this doctrine. Consequently, it is more difficult to recover damages in these states.

Ways To Prevent Impaired Driving

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds us that drivers could prevent drug and alcohol-related crashes. The agency recommends planning ahead if you want to drink alcoholic beverages or use drugs. You can also call a taxi or ride-sharing service to get home if you have been drinking.

If you drink with friends, you can designate a driver for the whole group. Even one glass of alcohol can impair driving skills and lead to fatal crashes. Ensure the assigned driver will not drink alcohol or take drugs.

Some OTC medicines do not pair well with alcohol. You must also be aware of your prescription drugs’ side effects. It can help you decide whether to drink alcohol at a party or simply enjoy other people’s presence.

To reduce the risk of fatal crashes, always wear your seatbelt. Everyone can suffer debilitating injuries due to high-impact accidents.

Did you know?

According to Experian, a DUI conviction will increase a person’s insurance rates for three years or more. The insurance rate hike depends on the state where the driver lives and their insurance company.

Find a Car Accident Attorney Near You

The NHTSA study focuses on the dangers of alcohol and drugs while on the road. Impaired drivers and other users are more likely to get into serious accidents while under the influence. 

Visit The Personal Injury Center if you sustained injuries due to a DUI accident. After providing basic details about your case, we can match you with a car accident lawyer. We also provide legal information about road accidents involving cars, motorcycles, trucks, and other vehicles.

Have you recently been injured in an accident?

Have you been involved in an alcohol-related crash? Visit The Personal Injury Center to know your rights after a DUI car accident. Book a free consultation today!

FAQs on Impaired Driving

You may sue the driver because they have a duty to all road users, including passengers. However, your case may not prosper if you contributed to the crash and the state follows the doctrine of contributory negligence.

Aside from impaired driving, car accidents may occur due to distracted driving, speeding, manufacturing defects, road hazards, and poor weather conditions.

You can file a civil lawsuit before criminal charges are brought against the at-fault driver. Additionally, only the government can initiate a criminal case in the US. It is not up to you as a victim. Prosecutors determine whether or not to file a criminal case based on if they can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.