While alcohol is technically a drug, there is a distinction in the law between drunk driving and drugged driving, though both are typically classified as "driving under the influence." However, the effects of both are typically the same. Whether a driver is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, it doesn't really matter if they choose to get behind the wheel and put theirs and others' lives at risk.
So what effects do drugs and alcohol have on the body exactly? Well, marijuana for one can slow down a driver's reaction time, impair their depth perception, and decrease their coordination. Cocaine and meth users may be overly aggressive or reckless. Sedatives can relax a driver to the point of drowsiness and can even cause dizziness.
Aside from that which is already known, it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact effects drugs can have on a driver because those who have taken drugs tend to mix those drugs with alcohol. This makes it more difficult to determine which agent was acting on the driver in what way. In fact, many states are still awaiting more finely tuned research to help them buckle down more firmly on the exact levels that should indicate someone's level of impaired driving, since right now the best we have is the .08 measurement indicating that someone is legally drunk.
It is incredibly unsettling to know that, according to research conducted in 2014, 10 million people who were ages 12 and older (that's right – 12 years old) have admitted to driving while under the influence. Despite years of public service announcements, the D.A.R.E. program, commercials on television and radio stations – all of those warnings – we still have a jaw-dropping rate of impaired drivers on the road.
Unsurprisingly, as seen in their higher insurance rates, men, along with young adults aged 18 to 25, are all more likely to get behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Alcohol is the number-one culprit in accidents involving drunk drivers, though marijuana is actually in second place.
The problem with marijuana is that because THC can stay in the body for days or even week after the person has used it, it can be very difficult to tell if marijuana was, in fact, responsible for an accident, or if was just leftovers in the person's system. This is why we are in such need of more advanced sobriety tests.
In addition to marijuana, prescription drugs also play a significant role in the number of impaired drivers who admit to getting behind the wheel. In 2010, a nationwide study showed that nearly half of all impaired drivers who had tested positive had taken a prescription drug, the most common of which being pain relievers.
Sadly, natural mental decline that occurs in folks as they get older can account for this prescription drug trend, simply because these people tend to over medicate as a result of not remembering how much medication they took, or when they took it. Additionally, medication may not break down as quickly in an older person, so it takes much longer for the effects to wear off.