City Desk

Drivers Are Boozing Less But Toking Up Is High, Feds Say

Driving while drunk has fallen dramatically over the last few decades but drug use is much more popular, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

According to the latest NHTSA roadside survey, drivers caught with blood alcohol concentrations above the legal limit fell to 2.2 percent in 2007, compared to 7.5 percent in 1975. 

Until 2007, the feds were only equipped to measure boozing – 0.08 blood alcohol concentrations or higher mean you are legally drunk. But now, the NHTSA has spiffy new screening techniques that detect drug use too. Of the nighttime weekend drivers tested in 2007, 16.3 percent were on drugs – mostly marijuana, with cocaine in second place, followed by prescription pills, the NHTSA says.

Yeah, but how scientific is a survey of 300 stops nationwide?  What about all those others who weren’t caught up in the dragnets, would they be more likely to be drugged or smashed? And, the NHTSA has segregated out the "nighttime weekend" druggies, while the boozing data apparently includes stops at all times of day and night. Perhaps the announcement's true intent is to put drug users on warning that toking and tweaking no longer goes undetected.

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  • Q

    You are on to something Christine. It is socially unacceptable to Drive Drunk. You've got commercials, wrecked automobiles, stories of fatalities, and zealous bartenders all supporting that fact. With all that going for it, it is no surprise that the statistics are coming down. Driving while HIGH...uhmm, that hasn't reached the point of socially unacceptable yet. In fact, there are a couple of commercials, but it is glamorized by artists from Willie Nelson to Snoop Dog. Now that folks know that the technology exists for field sobriety tests, hopefully toking and driving will calm down.

    Oftentimes on the road, I wonder if some inconsiderate drivers are on drugs or something. Now I have a better chance at being correct. :(

  • Christine MacDonald

    Q, you are so right about how it's become anti-social to drink and drive. I once wrote a story about Boston dive bars that catered to morning drinkers and those on their "Budweiser coffee breaks." Dating back to at least Roman times, people were buzzed pretty much all day, I learned. But the advent of workplace drug and alcohol testing in the late 1980s changed all that. The story is still online, if you're interested:

  • Q

    "morning drinkers and those on their “Budweiser coffee breaks.”" From the Globe article, "nursing a beer and a shot of blackberry brandy" Whoa! Only in Boston, or Capitol Hill, or Ancient Rome. LOL! It's difficult to read the article without hearing the regional accents and thinking of Ted Kennedy, but I digress.

    I'm curious to see what effect an 8am/9am Bars would have in DC (at least for those who don't operate heavy machinery). Do you think productivity would go down?

    I wonder if Caesar was pulled over for driving his chariot while intoxicated, or did the horses pretty much cover for him.

  • Christine MacDonald

    Who knows maybe productive goes way up when people are buzzed ... err, but maybe not quite the type of productivity employers are looking for.