To examine the prevalence of alcohol and drugs in blood samples collected from car and van drivers killed in traffic accidents in Norway during the time period from 2001 to 2010.
Blood samples (n = 676, 63% of all killed drivers) were analyzed for alcohol, psychoactive medications, and illicit drugs. The cutoff limits for positive results were set according to the new legislative limits under the Norwegian Road Traffic Act. The results were assessed in relation to sex and age, time of day and day of week, and single- versus multiple-vehicle and all investigated vehicle accidents.
Alcohol or one or more drugs was detected in samples from 40.2 percent of all investigated drivers, with 28.7 percent showing blood concentrations of at least 5 times the legislative limits. For the investigated female drivers, the total prevalence was 24.0 percent. Among the single-vehicle accidents, alcohol or drugs was found in 63.8 percent of the cases, with 49.1 percent showing blood concentrations of at least 5 times the legislative limits. Alcohol was detected in 25.3 and 49.1 percent of samples from all investigated drivers and among drivers killed in single-vehicle accidents, respectively. Psychoactive medications were found in 14.4 and 17.7 percent and illicit drugs in 14.1 and 19.2 percent, respectively. The most commonly detected group of medications was benzodiazepines, and amphetamines and tetrahydrocannabinol were the most commonly detected illicit drugs. The prevalence of alcohol alone was highest among drivers under the age of 25, and the combination of alcohol with other drugs was highest among drivers under the age of 35. Drivers between the ages of 25 and 54 showed the highest prevalence of medications and/or illicit drugs without the presence of alcohol. The highest prevalence of alcohol or drugs was found among drivers killed in single-vehicle accidents on weeknights (83.8%) and on weekend nights (89.3%).
The findings confirm that a large number of fatally injured drivers, in particular among drivers involved in single-vehicle accidents, had concentrations of alcohol or drugs above the new legislative limits introduced in 2012. In many cases, concentrations of at least 5 times the limits were found. The proportion of drivers killed who tested positive for alcohol or other drugs did not change during the study period; however, the total number of drivers killed per year decreased by about 20 percent. Some changes were also observed with regard to the types of benzodiazepines and amphetamines detected during the 10-year period.