Testing reckless drivers for cocaine and marijuana

N Engl J Med. 1994 Aug 25;331(8):518-22. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199408253310807.


Background: Driving under the influence of intoxicating drugs other than alcohol may be an important cause of traffic injuries. We used a rapid urine test to identify reckless drivers who were under the influence of cocaine or marijuana.

Methods: We conducted a consecutive-sample study in Memphis, Tennessee, in the summer of 1993. Subjects arrested for reckless driving who were not apparently impaired by alcohol (did not have an odor of alcohol, tested negative on breath analysis, or both) were tested for cocaine and marijuana at the scene of arrest. The results of the drug tests were compared with clinical evaluations of intoxication made at the scene by a police officer.

Results: A total of 175 subjects were stopped for reckless driving, and 150 (86 percent) submitted urine samples for drug testing at the scene of arrest. Eighty-eight of the 150 (59 percent) tested positive: 20 (13 percent) for cocaine, 50 (33 percent) for marijuana, and 18 (12 percent) for both drugs. Ninety-four of the 150 tested drivers were clinically considered to be intoxicated, and 80 of them (85 percent) tested positive for cocaine or marijuana. The intoxicated drivers had a broad range of affects and appearances. Nearly half the drivers intoxicated with cocaine performed normally on standard sobriety tests.

Conclusions: Over half of the reckless drivers who were not intoxicated with alcohol were found to be intoxicated with other drugs. Toxicologic testing at the scene is a practical means of identifying drivers under the influence of drugs and is a useful adjunct to standard behavioral sobriety testing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Automobile Driving / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Cocaine*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / diagnosis*
  • Police
  • Substance Abuse Detection / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Tennessee


  • Cocaine