Study: More Than Half of Seriously Injured, Fatal Crash Victims Have Drugs Or Alcohol In Bloodstreams

December 21, 2022 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff

Study: More Than Half of Seriously Injured, Fatal Crash Victims Have Drugs Or Alcohol In Bloodstreams

More than half the people injured or killed in traffic crashes in the United States have one or more drugs, or alcohol, in their bloodstream, according to a new federal study.

Overall, 55.8% of the over 7,000 injured or killed roadway users studied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tested positive for one or more drugs, including alcohol. The most prevalent drug category detected was cannabinoids (THC, the active ingredient in marijuana) with 25.1% positive, followed by alcohol (23.1%), stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamines (10.8%), and opioids (9.3%). Overall, 19.9% of the roadway users tested positive for two or more categories of drugs.

“The results in this report provide a first look at drug prevalence among a large sample of seriously or fatally injured roadway users,” according to the study’s authors. “This study’s results can only be used to describe drug prevalence among the specific populations sampled and with full awareness of the study’s limitations. The study results should not be used to imply impairment or increased risk associated with drug presence.”

For the study — titled Alcohol and Drug Prevalence Among Seriously or Fatally Injured Road Users — researchers studied blood tests taken at seven level-one trauma centers and four medical examiners’ offices across the country. The results also found the following:

  • Nearly 20% of the drivers tested had blood-alcohol levels of 0.08% or higher, exceeding the legal limit in every state.
  • More than half of injured pedestrians and just over 43% of injured bicyclists had a drug in their bloodstreams.
  • The presence of THC in so many patients could be because it can stay in a bloodstream longer than alcohol or other drugs.

The results come at a critical time on U.S. roadways. More people died on our country’s roadways last year than any year since 2005, according to federal crash statistics. The number of people killed on U.S. roads last year — 42,915 — was also 10% higher than the year before, and the largest annual percentage increase since 1975 when such tracking began.

Impaired driving is responsible for more than 10,000 deaths in the United States every year.

“Impaired-driving crashes are especially tragic because they are 100% preventable,” said Matt Clark, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Clark. “There is absolutely no good reason to get behind the wheel if you’re impaired by alcohol or drugs. The consequences are too drastic.”


If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, text, or chat with us at