Late last year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released the findings of a study that was the first of its kind. The study analyzed the drug testing data of drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents on a national scale. NHTSA’s report indicated that although drugs were increasingly present in post-mortem examinations, this does not mean drivers were impaired or caused crashes. The study’s findings send a strong message, that all U.S. drivers should be more conscious of the dangers of using drugs and then driving.


Through its Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), the NHTSA collects state-reported drug testing data on deceased drivers, among other information. The drug data includes if a driver was tested, what type of test was given and overall test results. For the current study, NHTSA researchers looked at whether the level of drugs involved in the drivers of these fatal accidents increased during the period from 2005 to 2009. This study did not analyze if a correlation exists between high levels of drugs in the body and crash causation.

Major Findings

The NHTSA study found that in 2009, 63 percent of the 21,798 drivers who died in fatal car accidents underwent post-mortem drug testing. Approximately 18 percent, or 3,952 drivers, had positive drug test results. The NHTSA report also indicated that the amount of drug use among drivers killed in crashes steadily rose from 13 percent in 2005, to 15 percent in 2006, 16 percent in 2007 and 18 percent in 2008. The drug testing uncovered both illegal and over-the-counter drugs in drivers like narcotics, steroids, depressants and inhalants.

Inconsistency of Drug Testing

According to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, the study revealed that the extent of drug testing, as well as types of tests performed, testing techniques and compatible positive or negative concentration levels, is inconsistent among the states. The report also identified that a large section of drug testing data was missing for many drivers killed in fatal motor vehicle accidents. Administrator Strickland warned, however, that even though drug testing policies and procedures are still evolving, drivers should not drive when impaired by drugs.

Impact of Impaired Drivers

Drivers under the influence of any substance, whether alcohol or drugs, are at risk to themselves and others on the road. All drivers should know and understand they are personally responsible for the safe operation of their vehicles, but this is not always the case. While the NHTSA continues to research the relationship between drugs and crash causation, they also offer law enforcement personnel in most states training to identify and arrest impaired drivers in an attempt to minimize their potentially dangerous impact.

If you or your loved one was recently injured or killed in a car accident where the other driver was impaired, either by drugs or alcohol, contact a personal injury attorney in your area to discuss your case and options for recovering for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering or wrongful death. You have the right to hold these drivers accountable for their poor choices and you deserve compensation for your injuries.