Impaired Driving

Did You Know?
Driving impaired is a significant issue on our roadways.

Driving impaired is a significant issue on our roadways. Approximately 30 percent of deaths resulting from a vehicle collision are largely due to a driver who is impaired. The following section contains information regarding alcohol and drug impaired driving issues including polysubstance use while driving. Workplace materials are provided for employers to educate employees, and suggested actions employers can take to help their employees to drive sober, not only when driving for work purposes, but every time they get into a vehicle.

Alcohol-Impaired Driving

Car filling up with beer
Driver leaning out car with beer in hand

Driving while alcohol-impaired or “drunk driving” is dangerous and illegal in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Alcohol impairs cognitive functions including thinking and  reasoning, slows reaction time and affects muscle coordination. Even drinking one glass of alcohol before operating a vehicle can put you at risk of crashing and endangering other innocent drivers.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2018 there were 10,511 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities. This accounts for 29 percent of the 2018 U.S. roadway fatalities. The dangers of driving while alcohol-impaired are widely known however almost 30 percent of fatalities each year are contributed to drunk driving. In 2016, the National Health Interview Survey estimated 62 percent of employed adults drank alcohol regularly. For this reason, NHTSA conducts several alcohol-impaired driving awareness campaigns throughout the year.

Driver and passengers drinking in vehicle
Man driving while holding open bottle of alcohol

Drinking and driving should never be tolerated. This includes to and from work and driving during work hours or for work events. Typically, workplace parties involve an assortment of food and drinks. If the drinks include alcohol, they can have unfortunate consequences. It is up to the discretion of the employer whether alcohol will be consumed at workplace parties or other company-sponsored events. However the possibility that some employees or guests may drive home “under the influence” must be addressed. Improper use of alcohol, especially when employees will be driving, creates significant liability issues to the company, risk of injury to themselves and others on the road.

How much is too much?

Driver with open beer leaning on steering wheel
Beer bottle in car as driver shifts into gear

Many people are surprised to learn what counts as a “standard” drink. In the United States, a standard drink is any drink that contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol (also known as an alcoholic drink-equivalent). With the popularity of craft beers, including “double IPAs,” etc. the percent alcohol may be significantly increased and could cause unanticipated impairment even for “just one beer”.

Knowing exactly how much is too much is difficult to discern. The best way to avoid driving alcohol-impaired is to designate a sober driver when planning a night out where drinking will occur or to use alternate transportation (e.g.,. ride-sharing service, taxi, bus, or train).

Get the Facts!

Access the Cost of Crashes Calculator to get a customized calculation of what alcohol use costs your company:

According to NHTSA:

  • An average of 1 alcohol-impaired-driving fatality occurred every 48 minutes in 2017.
  • On average over the 10-year period from 2006-2016, more than 10,000 people died every year in drunk-driving crashes.
  • In every state, it’s illegal to drive with a BAC of .08 or higher, yet one person was killed in a drunk-driving crash every 48 minutes in the United States in 2017.
  • Men are more likely than women to be driving drunk in fatal crashes. In 2017, 21 percent of men were drunk in these crashes, compared to 14 percent for women.
  • The estimated economic cost of all alcohol-impaired crashes (involving alcohol-impaired drivers or alcohol-impaired nonoccupants) in the United States in 2010 (the most recent year for which cost data is available) was $44 billion.

According to the CDC:

Alcohol-Impaired Driving Materials for the Workplace

See the Impaired Driving Materials for the Workplace at the bottom of the Drug-Impaired Driving section.

Drug-Impaired Driving

Driving on the highway with marijuana

Drug‐impaired driving or driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) is a growing threat on our roadways today. The opioid overdose crisis, the abuse of prescription drugs, and the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana are all‐emerging as public safety threats across the country, especially on our nation’s roadways. The legalization of recreational and medical marijuana has posed some difficulties for employers in these states. However, the use of recreational or medical marijuana should never be allowed when driving. Employers are encouraged to implement a “Zero Tolerance” drug policy in the workplace, especially when employees are driving. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) provide instructions on developing and implementing a drug policy in the workplace.

Mixture of marijuana and car keys

Regardless whether drugs/medications are prescribed by a doctor or taken legally including medicine obtained over the counter, it is illegal in every state to drive under the influence of any potentially impairing drug.

Opioids are often initially prescribed to manage pain arising from a work injury. This increases the risk of employees driving to and from work or driving for work while taking this medication. Employees should be aware of the risks of employees driving under these medications.

There are several misconceptions regarding drug-impaired driving. NHTSA has recently launched a drug-impaired driving campaign “If You Feel Different, You Drive Different”.

Drugs with judge's gavel
Man with pills and drink giving up keys

Impairment doesn’t only refer to being “drunk”. Several different substances can have an affect on your ability to drive including illicit drugs, over the counter (OTC), and prescription drugs. Drivers often identify OTC medications as “harmless” or “safe.” However, OTC allergy medications can significantly impair the ability to drive a vehicle. Different drugs/medications can have different effects and how they effect each person can also vary. Some medications can cause extreme drowsiness and/or dizziness, while others can create excitability and/or anxiousness. It is important to read and follow the instruction of the labels on all prescribed and over the counter medications and to be especially cognizant of taking these medications when driving. If the label warns against “operating heavy machinery,” this includes driving a vehicle.

Variety of drugs with car keys and sunglasses

NHTSA tracks over 400 drugs that can cause impairment when taken while driving. Each of these drugs, taken alone or in combination with other drugs and/or alcohol can impact drivers differently. Often drivers are educated about of the risks of drinking alcohol with prescription drugs. However, OTC drugs can also have a significant effect on driving impairment when combined with alcohol, even at low levels and can influence how quickly the body absorbs and eliminates alcohol.

illustration of head made up of multiple types of drugs and alcohol

Drug interactions between alcohol, OTC, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs including marijuana can result in dangerous outcomes when used while driving. Specifically, when marijuana is taken in combination with alcohol reaction times and coordination can be further delayed. Employers should educate their employees to read the warning labels on any medication they’re taking, even OTC medications and to be aware of potential impairing effects when taking these medications especially when driving.

toy car crashed next to alcohol and drugs

Get the Facts!

According to NHTSA:

According to the CDC:

  • Illicit drug use, including illegal drugs and the misuse of prescription drugs is a risk for employers.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that overdose deaths at work from non-medical use of drugs or alcohol increased by at least 25 percent annually between 2013 and 2017.
  • The 272 workplace overdose deaths reported in 2017 accounted for 5.3 percent of occupational injury deaths that year, as compared to 1.8 percent in 2013.
  • Factors, such as job insecurity, job loss, and high demand/low control jobs may also be associated with prescription opioid use.
  • In 2017, 95 percent of the 70,067 US drug overdose deaths occurred among the working age population, persons aged 15-64 years.

Other sources:

  • According to SAMSHA, of the approximately 44 million adults who used illicit drugs in 2016, about 69 percent were employed.
  • In a recent study, 17 percent of CMV drivers were reported as having “over-the-counter drug use” at the time of a crash.
  • According to a study conducted in 2018 by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA)6 percent of fatally injured drivers in 2016 tested positive for drugs and over half of those drivers were positive for two or more drugs. This study also found that in 2016, 43.6 percent of the drivers with known drug test results were drug-positive.
  • A study conducted in 2010 found that when marijuana was combined with alcohol, driving impairment was greater than when each substance was used independently. A more recent study confirmed that the simultaneous use of alcohol and cannabis produces significantly higher blood concentrations of cannabis’s main psychoactive constituent, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well as THC’s primary active metabolite, 11-hydroxy-THC (11-OH-THC), than cannabis use alone.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) identified the following effects of Commonly Misused Drugs on Driving:
    • Marijuana affects psychomotor skills and cognitive functions critical to driving including vigilance, drowsiness, time and distance perception, reaction time, divided attention, lane tracking, coordination, and balance.
    • Opioids can cause drowsiness and can impair cognitive function.
    • Alcohol can reduce coordination, concentration, ability to track moving objects and reduce response to emergency driving situations as well as difficulty steering and maintaining lane position. It can also cause drowsiness.

Impaired Driving Materials for the Workplace

Click on the following to download Impaired Driving educational materials:

Fact Sheet




What Employers Can Do

Collecton of diverse individuals

Employers can use the materials above to educate employees about the risks of driving impaired.

  • Use the materials above to educate employees about the risks of driving impaired.
  • Implement a drug/alcohol-free workplace even if your state allows recreational marijuana and/or medical marijuana.
  • Implement a strict “zero tolerance” policy regarding drugs and alcohol while driving. This also includes states with legalized recreational or medical marijuana.
  • Educate employees about the health and productivity hazards of drinking or taking drugs when driving including over the counter or prescribed medications.
    • Host mandatory impaired driving education events using the materials provided above.
    • Sponsor impaired-driving demonstrations that implement driving simulators experience what it’s like to “feel” impaired.
    • Emphasize the risks of combining medications and the potential impairing affects of different medications.
  • Make sure employees know the impaired driving policy and whether it addresses alcohol use in work-related situations and social functions.
  • Post the impaired driving policy. Utilize different communication vehicles to ensure employees understand the policy including bulletin boards to post fact sheets and infographics, email announcements, webinars, flash card inserts, emails, etc.
  • Work-related Parties:
    • Prior to a work-related party, use bulletin boards, e-mail and paycheck envelopes to publicize the policy and any concerns.
    • Reinvent the party concept. Work parties don’t have to revolve around alcohol. Try something new like an indoor carnival, amusement park outing or volunteer activity.
    • Make sure employees know when to say when. If alcohol is served at an event, make sure all employees know that they are welcome to attend and have fun, but that they are expected to act responsibly.
    • Make it the party of choice. Make plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available.
    • Designate party managers. Remind managers that even at a party, they may need to implement the impaired driving policy.
    • Arrange alternative transportation. Anticipate the need for alternative transportation for all party goers and make special arrangements in advance.
    • Encourage employees to make use of the alternative transportation if they consume alcohol. Offer ride-sharing services or implement a designated driver program with incentives.
    • Encourage employees to not let others get behind the wheel if they’ve been drinking.
    • Stop serving alcohol before the party officially ends.
  • Offer health benefits that provide comprehensive coverage for substance use disorders, including aftercare and counseling.
  • Provide screening for those employees who violate the impaired-driving policy.
  • Utilize EAP services to help employees with substance abuse.
  • Reduce the stigma of substance abuse issues in the workplace.