During the holiday season, many of us look forward to get-togethers with friends and family. Unfortunately, holidays can also be a dangerous time for alcohol- and drug-related traffic incidents. SAMHSA is observing National Impaired Driving Prevention Month in December to raise awareness of this deadly yet preventable problem.
Since the early 1980s, public policy changes, school and community interventions, and grassroots advocacy have significantly decreased alcohol-related driving fatalities. Yet, driving impaired (by alcohol or other drugs) continues to take lives.
- About 30 percent of all traffic fatalities in the United States involve a driver who is alcohol impaired. Each day, about 32 people in the United States die in a crash in which at least one driver is alcohol impaired. That’s one person every 45 minutes.1,2
- 56 percent of drivers who are seriously injured or killed in a crash tested positive for at least one drug, according to preliminary data from an ongoing study. 3,4
Alcohol, Other Drugs, and Medications
We know a lot about how alcohol impairs the ability to drive — affecting our vision, reaction times, judgement, and ability to multi-task. Driving under the influence of other drugs can have equally deadly consequences. 5,6
- Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause extreme drowsiness, dizziness, and other side effects. If there’s a warning on the medication about “operating heavy machinery,” that includes driving a vehicle.
- Marijuana can slow reaction time, impair judgment of time and distance, and decrease coordination.
- Opioids can cause drowsiness and impair cognitive function.
- Cocaine and methamphetamines can lead to aggressive and reckless driving.
It’s illegal everywhere in the United States to drive under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, opioids, methamphetamines, or any potentially impairing drug. 7
- This includes prescribed and over-the-counter medications.
- Even in states where marijuana laws have changed, it’s still illegal to drive under the influence of that drug.
What You Can Do
We all want to celebrate safely. That begins with renewing our commitment to sober driving and supporting our loved ones and communities to do the same. Just one drink (or substance) can affect a person’s driving.
- If you’re attending a gathering where alcohol or other substances will be served, plan beforehand to get home safely.
- You can designate a sober driver or arrange for a taxi or ride share (to and from your destination).
- Talk in advance with friends and family about planning to prevent impaired driving.
- Don’t let others get behind the wheel if they’re under the influence.
- Take their keys and arrange a sober ride home or have them stay the night.
- If you host a party where alcohol or other substances will be served:
- Ask your guests to make a plan to get home safely.
- Offer substance-free beverages.
- Make sure all guests leave with a sober driver.
- Always wear a seat belt.
- Make sure that everyone in the vehicle wears a seat belt.
- If you see an impaired driver on the road, pull over and contact local law enforcement.
For the Kids in Your Life
Talk with your kids about impaired driving.
- Let them know:
- It’s never okay to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while under the influence.
- Getting in a car with someone who has been drinking or using drugs is dangerous.
- Help kids plan an exit strategy, to avoid accepting a ride from someone under the influence.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers facts and tips related to alcohol- and drug-impaired driving.
- NHTSA’s traffic safety marketing website offers campaigns (with social media playbooks, graphics, news releases, fact sheets, etc.) on alcohol- and drug-impaired driving, including content for holidays throughout the year.
- The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) proposes legislation, technology, and testing to prevent alcohol- and other drug-impaired driving.
- SAMHSA’s “Implementing Community-Level Policies to Prevent Alcohol Misuse” (November 2022) is an evidence-based resource guide that provides policies to prevent alcohol misuse, implementation examples, and health equity considerations.
- Impaired Driving: Talk With Your Kids (PDF | 417 KB). This fact sheet (from SAMHSA’s Talk. They Hear You.® campaign) provides tips on talking with kids, including helping them build an exit plan for an unsafe situation.
- SAMHSA’s Communities Talk includes an update about impaired driving by young drivers during the holidays.
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline provides referrals to local treatment, support groups, and resources. It’s confidential and free, for individuals or families facing substance misuse and/or mental health issues. Call 24/7 at 800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 800-487-4889.
- Some of us experience the holiday blues. For anyone thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or in need of emotional support, call or text 988. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is available 24/7.
This holiday season — and all year long — we each play a role in preventing impaired driving and its tragic consequences. Sober driving is a gift that we can each give to ourselves and each other.
1National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drunk Driving. Retrieved at www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drunk-driving on Nov. 15, 2022.
2National Center for Statistics and Analysis (2022, April). Alcohol-impaired driving: 2020 data (Traffic Safety Facts. Report No. DOT HS 813 294). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813294 (PDF | 541 KB)
3National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drug-Impaired Driving. Retrieved at www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drug-impaired-driving on Nov. 15, 2022.
4 Office of Behavioral Safety Research. (2021, June). Update to special reports on traffic safety during the COVID-19 public health emergency: Fourth quarter data (Report No. DOT HS 813 135). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/56125
5 National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2019, December). Drugged Driving DrugFacts. Retrieved at https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/drugged-driving on Nov. 15, 2022.
6National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drug-Impaired Driving. Retrieved at www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drug-impaired-driving on Nov. 15, 2022.
7 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drug-Impaired Driving. Retrieved at www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/drug-impaired-driving on Nov. 15, 2022.