Alcohol, psychoactive substances and non-fatal road traffic accidents--a case-control study

BMC Public Health. 2012 Sep 3:12:734. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-12-734.


Background: The prevalence of alcohol and other psychoactive substances is high in biological specimens from injured drivers, while the prevalence of these psychoactive substances in samples from drivers in normal traffic is low. The aim of this study was to compare the prevalence of alcohol and psychoactive substances in drivers admitted to hospital for treatment of injuries after road traffic accidents with that in drivers in normal traffic, and calculate risk estimates for the substances, and combinations of substances found in both groups.

Methods: Injured drivers were recruited in the hospital emergency department and drivers in normal conditions were taken from the hospital catchment area in roadside tests of moving traffic. Substances found in blood samples from injured drivers and oral fluid samples from drivers in moving traffic were compared using equivalent cut off concentrations, and risk estimates were calculated using logistic regression analyses.

Results: In 21.9% of the injured drivers, substances were found: most commonly alcohol (11.5%) and stimulants eg. cocaine or amphetamines (9.4%). This compares to 3.2% of drivers in normal traffic where the most commonly found substances were z-hypnotics (0.9%) and benzodiazepines (0.8%). The greatest increase in risk of being injured was for alcohol combined with any other substance (OR: 231.9, 95% CI: 33.3- 1615.4, p < 0.001), for more than three psychoactive substances (OR: 38.9, 95% CI: 8.2- 185.0, p < 0.001) and for alcohol alone (OR: 36.1, 95% CI: 13.2- 98.6, p < 0.001). Single use of non-alcohol substances was not associated with increased accident risk.

Conclusion: The prevalence of psychoactive substances was higher among injured drivers than drivers in normal moving traffic. The risk of accident is greatly increased among drivers who tested positive for alcohol, in particular, those who had also ingested one or more psychoactive substances. Various preventive measures should be considered to curb the prevalence of driving under the influence of psychoactive substances as these drivers constitute a significant risk for other road users as well as themselves.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology
  • Young Adult