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NIDA. (2009, April 1). High School Seniors Report Alcohol- or Drug-Impaired Driving Experiences. Retrieved from

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April 01, 2009

About one in three high school seniors has, in a 2-week period, either driven a vehicle after drinking alcohol or taking illegal drugs or ridden as a passenger with a driver under the influence of those substances, a NIDA-supported study suggests.

Researchers looked at data from six annual Monitoring the Future surveys—2001 to 2006—each of which asked approximately 2,500 high school seniors whether they had, in the 2 weeks prior to the survey, driven after drinking alcohol or using an illicit drug or ridden with a driver who had. Although the prevalence of alcohol- or drug-impaired driving and riding has declined over the 6 years, from 35 percent in 2001 to 30 percent in 2006, the problem remains serious and widespread, the study authors say.

photo of nighttime car crash with teens walking around

The researchers focused on four categories of substance abuse: use of marijuana; use of any illicit drug other than marijuana; consumption of any amount of alcohol; and heavy drinking, defined as five or more alcoholic drinks in a row. The most prevalent single activity, reported by 21 percent of high school seniors in 2006, was riding with a driver who had used alcohol, closely followed by riding with a driver who had used marijuana (20 percent). Nearly a quarter of the students in the class of 2006 admitted to taking a ride with someone who had either used an illicit drug or had been drinking heavily. Fourteen percent admitted to driving after using alcohol, and 13 percent to doing so after marijuana use.

Influence of Lifestyle, Gender, and Race

Lifestyle factors and, to a lesser degree, gender and race influenced the students' likelihood of engaging in the risky behaviors. For example, driving after using marijuana was reported more commonly by seniors who reported truancy and those who went out more often in the evenings for recreational activities, worked more hours per week, or drove more miles per week than average. Factors associated with lower-than-average reports of driving after marijuana use included higher grade-point averages and statements indicating religious commitment. Also, Hispanic students were less likely than white students to drive after using marijuana.

Different factors influenced driving after heavy drinking. Boys were more likely than girls to report that behavior. Boys and girls who were not living with at least one parent were more likely than their counterparts to drive after heavy drinking; seniors with the most highly educated parents were less likely to do so. Black seniors were much less likely than white seniors to drive after heavy drinking.

Boys were slightly more likely than girls to drive after using an illicit drug or to ride with a driver who had. Boys and girls reporting average grades of B- or below were much more likely than A students to drive after such illicit drug use or heavy drinking or to ride with a driver who had engaged in such behavior.


O'Malley, P.M., and Johnston, L.D. Drugs and driving by American high school seniors, 2001-2006. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 68(6):834-842, 2007. [Abstract]