The thought of encountering a drunk driver on a dark highway is enough to make you want to keep your kids home on a Saturday night. However, new research shows that impaired drivers are more likely to be under the influence of other substances, potentially causing an epidemic just as dangerous as drunk driving.

Driving and Drug Use Is On the Rise in Weekend Drivers

A new pair of studies by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) discovered good news and bad news for weekend drivers. While the number of drivers under the influence of alcohol has declined by nearly 30 percent over the past decade, the number of drivers who get behind the wheel after using marijuana or other illegal drugs is steadily on the rise.

Here’s a look at how and why increased drug use places other road users in danger:

Crash risk.

The NHTSA surveys recorded the number of drivers with marijuana in their systems, but also examined whether marijuana use is associated with higher crash risk. The results indicated that marijuana users are more likely to be involved in car accidents because they are more likely to be in groups that are already at risk, including teenagers and young men.

Party hours.

The survey targeted drivers during a specific time window: weekend nights. These hours are associated with higher crash risk due to alcohol use, particularly among young drivers. The 2014 survey showed that 20 percent of drivers had evidence of drugs in their system—and the number of drivers who had used marijuana grew by nearly 50 percent.

Prescription drugs.

Marijuana is still illegal in most states, but prescription drugs can be taken legally or illegally—and evidence shows that many drivers are doing both. Prescriptions pose a threat to drivers of all ages; young drivers may experiment with prescription drugs, and as drivers age, they are more and more likely to have prescription medications in their systems. Almost a quarter of drivers tested positive for drugs that could affect their performance and cause a safety issue.

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