NHTSA: Fewer drunks on road, but lots get high
Here's a classic good news-bad news study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
It appears that more than three decades of strong anti-drunk driving messages and stronger enforcement are having some impact. In a 2007 survey, NHTSA found that the percentage of drivers on weekend nights who have a blood-alcohol level higher than the prevailing national limit of .08 percent has fallen to 2.2 percent. (Shown in NHTSA graphic at right.) It's still pretty scary that one in 50 drivers on the road is drunk at those times, but that's an improvement from the downright terrifying 7.5 percent that prevailed in 1973, when the first such survey was taken.
During the daytime, the roadside survey found that only 0.1 percent of the drivers on the road were legally drunk. But what your mama told you about being on the road when the bars let out is true: 4.8 percent of drivers were found to exceed .08 between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. on weekends. That's nearly one in 20. (NHTSA doesn't measure this, but if it's 2 a.m. Sunday down the road from a biker bar, you can figure it's more than one in 10.)
The news was less encouraging when it comes to drugs, screening for which was included in in the surveys for the first time in the 2007 survey. The survey, based on oral fluid samples and blood samples, found that 16.3 percent of the drivers on the road on weekend nights tested positive for drugs. That dooesn't mean they were actively high while driving, because some of the tests -- such as those for marijuana -- can yield positive findings weeks after actual use. Still, that's a lot of Cheeches and Chongs with whom to be sharing the highways.
The most popular drugs among nighttime drivers in the voluntary, anonymous survey: marijuana, 8.6 percent; cocaine, 3.9 percent, and methamphetamine, 1.3 percent.
One other finding from the survey that should raise a few eyebrows: Motorcyclists, who are much more vulnerable to injury than "cagers," are also more than twice as likely to be drunk on the road late at night on the weekend. The survey found that 5.6 pecent of bikers had illegal blood-alcohol levels at those times, compared with 2.3 percent of those in passenger cars. No wonder motorcycle deaths continue to rise as fatalities iin other vehicles are dropping.
The survey didn't exactly debunk stereotypes: It found 0.3 percent of drivers of minivans were drunk on weekend nights, compared with 3.3 percent of drivers of pickup trucks.
As in about any survey of anything having to do with common sense, men fared less well than women. Males were found to have illegal levels of alcohol in 2.6 percent of cases; females, 1.5 percent.