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Who’s the most dangerous driver – Texting, drunk, high or drowsy?

December 14, 2015 by Steven M. Gursten

Our Michigan Auto Law attorneys set the record straight, with a reminder to drive safe and smart this holiday season


Who’s the most dangerous on the road?

  • The texting driver?
  • The drunk driver?
  • The driver who’s high on pot?
  • Or the drowsy driver?

Sure, everyone now knows about drunk driving, but it took decades for our society to fully understand the true dangers of drinking and driving. Just compare our attitudes and the criminal penalties today for a drunk driving offense to those of the 1970s.

In recent years, other extremely dangerous types of driving have emerged. These new forms of distracted driving now include the increasingly ubiquitous texting while driving. And we’re seeing a number of states and cities around the U.S. legalize medical marijuana and the recreational use of small quantities of pot. That means people are also driving while high on marijuana.

Everyone has different ideas about which driver is most dangerous. As a law firm of auto accident attorneys, we thought we knew the answer, but we were surprised by the actual increased statistical probability of some of these types of driving and their crash rates.

The information below about the dangers posed by texting, drunk, high and drowsy drivers is measured by the likelihood that each type of driving will result in a car accident.

Most Dangerous Driver Infographic Link

Drunk Driving – Up to 380 times more likely to crash

The danger of crashing, i.e., being killed in a “single-vehicle fatal crash,” depends on a driver’s level of intoxication, which is measured by the driver’s blood alcohol concentration or BAC:

  • A driver with a BAC of 0.15 and higher are 380 times more likely to crash than a sober driver.
  • A driver with a BAC of 0.10 to 0.14 are 48 times more likely to crash than a sober driver.
  • A driver with a BAC of 0.05 to 0.09 are 11 times more likely to crash than a sober driver.

Sources: “Drunk Driving – The Dangers: Some Cold, Hard Facts About Drinking and Driving,” By Buddy T, Updated August 16, 2013, About.com Alcoholism; “Alcohol Alert,” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, No. 31 PH 362, January 1996.

Texting while driving – 23 times more likely to crash

“Text messaging made the risk of crash or near-crash event 23.2 times as high as non-distracted driving.”

Source: Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, 2009 study

Drowsy driving – Nearly 5 times as likely to crash

A drowsy driver who has had less than five hours sleep per night is nearly five times more likely to be involved in a car crash than a driver who has had eight or more hours of sleep per night. Specifically:

“[c]ompared to sleeping 8 or more hours a night,” sleeping for “[L]ess than 5 hours [was associated with] a 4.5 times higher risk …”

Source: “Why do people have drowsy driving crashes? Input from drivers who just did,” AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, November 1999, P. 50.

Driving “High” (Under the Influence of Marijuana) – Twice As Likely To Crash

“[C]annabis users who drive while intoxicated approximately double their risk of a car crash.”

Source: Addiction: What has research over the past two decades revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use?; Volume 110, Issue 1, pages 19–35, January 2015.

 The legal implications of dangerous driving

Ten years from now, will we look upon texting while driving with the same lack of social tolerance that we do toward drinking and driving today?

Attorneys like us who regularly litigate motor vehicle accident cases are now checking cell phone and texting records. And evidence of texting while driving can be used by an attorney to add an employer to a car accident lawsuit if the texting was in the course and scope of a driver’s employment when he or she caused a crash.

Evidence of texting and marijuana use can be used as a basis to bring a claim for punitive damages in many states, especially in cases involving truck accidents and commercial motor carrier drivers, when companies fail to properly test and supervise their drivers.

Another important question is, how will the increasing trend of legalized marijuana and medical marijuana use affect laws where a person causes a car accident while impaired by pot?

Today, most states have amended their laws to reflect the current societal intolerance toward drinking and driving. A very large trial verdict, for example, based upon alcohol or drug use is no longer dischargeable by personal bankruptcy in the majority of states. It’s fascinating to consider how these laws may change again as marijuana legalization spreads across the country.

States have varying laws and fines to punish texting and driving, but it’s clear that national attitudes on texting and driving are changing and beginning to reflect the true dangers of this behavior. To learn about the laws and criminal penalties in your state, read our Michigan Auto Law blog post, “Why is Michigan falling so far behind other states on penalties for texting and driving?”

The legal implications of these new forms of distracted and impaired driving raise many questions, as our views of what is acceptable changes and as technology changes. Hopefully, our laws will continue to evolve to catch up to the science.

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