NIK about eliminating drunk and drugged drivers


Death rate per 100 accidents in EU countries in 2019
Graphic description

Death rate per 100 accidents in EU countries in 2019:

  • Poland - 9.6
  • Bulgaria – 9.3
  • Denmark – 7.1
  • Greece – 6.4
  • Romania – 6
  • France – 5.8
  • Finland – 5.5
  • Slovakia – 5.3
  • Estonia – 4.5
  • Latvia – 3.7
  • Hungary – 3.6
  • Netherlands – 3.1
  • Croatia – 3.1
  • Czech Republic – 3
  • Luxembourg – 2.2
  • Italy – 1.9
  • Spain – 1.7
  • Belgium – 1.7
  • Slovenia – 1.7
  • Sweden – 1.6
  • Austria – 1.2
  • Germany - 1

Source: NIK’s analysis based on the Report of the National Police Headquarters on road accidents in Poland in 2020

Since 2017, the percentage of drunk or drugged drivers has risen. In 2017, only one in 160 tested drivers was drunk, in 2020 it was already one in 70 persons (nearly 99 thousand in total). In 2020, drunk drivers caused 1656 accidents (in nearly 8% cases it was the drivers’ fault), in which 216 persons got killed (nearly 11% of all casualties due to the drivers’ fault) and 1847 persons got injured (nearly 8% of all injured due to the drivers’ fault). Since 2011, the number of drunk drivers has gone up over 5 times.

In 2013, to comply with the EU principles, Poland adopted the National Road Safety Programme 2013–2020. An objective by 2020 was the maximum of 6900 persons severely injured and 2000 fatalities. The objective was not met. In 2020, the number of fatalities totalled about 2500 which was about 25% more than assumed in the Programme. At the same time, the number of severely injured reached about 8 800 which was approximately 28% more against the Programme assumptions. The tightening of sanctions in 2015 and 2018 against drunk drivers and the ones who caused road accidents while being drunk proved ineffective.

Social costs of road accidents and collisions in Poland total PLN 56.6 billion per year , or 2.7% of the Polish GDP (data as of the end of 2018).

Consequences of accidents caused by drunk drivers (in the total number of accidents caused by drivers)
Graphic description

Consequences of accidents caused by drunk drivers (in the total number of accidents caused by drivers):

  • 2015: 10.8% of fatalities, 5.8% of injuries
  • 2016: 9.7% of fatalities, 5.8% of injuries
  • 2017: 9.5% of fatalities, 5.5% of injuries
  • 2018: 9.3% of fatalities, 5.9% of injuries
  • 2019: 8.6% of fatalities, 6.3% of injuries
  • 2020: 10.7% of fatalities, 7.7 % of injuries

Source: NIK’s analysis based on annual reports of the National Police Headquarters

Road accidents in Poland caused by drugged drivers
Graphic description

Road accidents in Poland caused by drugged drivers:

  • number of accidents: 2011 – 21, 2012 – 26, 2013 – 29, 2014 – 40, 2015 – 48, 2016 – 45, 2017 – 52, 2018 – 62, 2019 – 91, 2020 – 106.
  • including fatalities: 2011 – 12, 2012 – 13, 2013 – 5, 2014 – 12, 2015 – 14, 2016 – 14, 2017 – 19, 2018 – 19, 2019 – 23, 2020 –43.
  • including injuries: 2011 – 28, 2012 – 27, 2013 – 51, 2014 – 55, 2015 – 56, 2016 – 55, 2017 – 71, 2018 – 74, 2019 – 99, 2020 – 141.
  • number of collisions: 2011 – 52, 2012 – 75, 2013 – 49, 2014 – 73, 2015 – 87, 2016 – 115, 2017 – 104, 2018 – 133, 2019 – 217, 2020 –229.

Source: NIK’s analysis based on annual reports of the National Police Headquarters

Consequences of road accidents and collisions are horrifying for the whole society.  This can be seen not only in the above data (see infographics) but also in their financial costs. In 2018, it was nearly PLN 45 billion for accidents and PLN 11.7 billion for collisions. It should be remembered, though, that the highest costs of road accidents and collisions (58%) relate to their permanent effects  – production losses resulting from employee’s death or inability to work.

Unit costs of road accidents and collisions in 2018
Graphic description

Unit costs of road accidents and collisions in 2018:

  • fatality – ab. PLN 2.4 million
  • heavily injured victim – ab. PLN 3.3 million
  • slightly injured victim – PLN 48.2 thousand
  • road accident – ab. PLN 1.4 million
  • road collision - PLN 26.7 thousand

Source: NIK’s analysis based on the report: Valuation of costs of road accidents and collisions on the road network in Poland at the end of 2018, with isolated social and economic costs of accidents on the trans-European transport network


To-date efforts to eliminate drunk and drugged drivers have been ineffective. In 2017-2020, nearly 26 thousand persons were charged in the first instance for drink or drug driving. All of them had been validly sentenced before for the same reason. At the same time, about 424 thousand cases of driving under the influence of alcohol or psychoactive substances were detected. What was shocking, though, was that in 80% of cases those persons had blood alcohol content higher than 0.25mg per 1 dm³. It means that they committed serious (rather than minor) misconduct. It needs to be stressed that over 87% of sentences for crimes against traffic safety are related to drink or drug driving or causing an accident in this condition.

Since 2017, the share of drunk drivers in the total number of blood alcohol content tests more than doubled. Also the number of road accidents caused by drugged drivers more than doubled. Nevertheless, the Minister of Transport did not diagnose causes of that situation, nor did he recommend any counter-measures to reverse that trend. NIK found the Minister’s approach unreliable.

The National Road Safety Programme did not provide any specific solutions related to driving under the influence of alcohol or psychoactive substances. Besides, the method of measuring the safety level improvement by eliminating drunk and drugged drivers was not defined. Participation of such drivers in traffic was analysed mainly in annual reports Road safety in Poland and activities in this area. The reports did not help diagnose the causes of changes in drink or drug driving indicators. Also, they were not complete and could not be a tool to properly analyse drink driving.

NIK audits also revealed low recoverability of receivables of the Fund  for Victims Support and Post-Penitentiary Support. The level of amounts payable to the Fund exceeded PLN 240 million in 2019.

NIK’s analyses reveal that the courts’ obligation to impose fines and their significant increase since 2015 for drink or drug driving is not an effective tool to limit the number of drivers in that condition. The said solutions and inspections made by road traffic control bodies are of much smaller scale and impact than social control by the drivers’ environment. It is even more shocking that the Minister did not initiate any information or education measures or prevention programmes related to the alcohol issue. He also did not motivate the National Road Safety Council to propagate sobriety among drivers.

Entities operating in the traffic and public transport area moved to the Minister to start works on obliging employees (including drivers) to take preventive alcohol tests. The Minister did not refer the issue to the Minister of Labour, although he decided that those regulations should be included in the Labour Code.

The Minister undertook legislative initiatives which covered issues related to drink driving. However, he did not evaluate effectiveness of the functioning of normative acts or their parts dealing with that area.

Medical examinations – aimed to identify drivers’ addiction from alcohol or other forbidden substances - should have a significant impact on eliminating drunk or drugged drivers from traffic. Also psychological tests in transport psychology should help identify potential sociopathic personality disorder which makes drivers ignore legal and social norms. Therefore, medical fitness to drive certificates should not be given to persons with disturbed assessment skills or behavioural disorder. All these counter-indications should be detected particularly in the course of tests following the driving licence suspension.

The NIK audit revealed, however, that provincial governments improperly supervised the performance of medical examinations and psychological tests in transport psychology. Only 19% of doctors were controlled in terms of how adequately they carried out those tests and examinations. That is why, province marshals did not know if doctors and psychologists performed their tasks properly. When the controls were finally made, marshals found very significant irregularities with 42% of doctors. For instance, medical fitness to drive certificates were granted to persons who were unfit to drive. But still, only 9 doctors were removed from the registry.

The supervision over psychological laboratories is also alarmingly poor. Over ⅓ of them were not controlled by the marshals, although irregularities were found in 39% of entities.

By the end of NIK’s audit, no statutorily defined bodies being part of the professional self-government of psychologists were established. The psychologist’s code of ethics was not implemented, either. Nowadays, persons providing psychological services and giving their opinions in cases covered by this audit lack standardised psychological methods and are not subject to disciplinary sanctions for possible mistakes. That could make the elimination of drunk or drugged drivers from traffic less effective.

NIK had serious reservations about the activities of district heads who failed to issue decisions to suspend the driving licence in statutorily defined cases, issued administrative decisions without due diligence and with delay. A record-breaking driving ban decision was issued 434 days from the receipt of a valid court judgement. The delay in issuing decisions was sometimes caused by the fact that courts informed district offices about driving bans with significant delays. In case of short-term driving bans those delays made it impossible for district heads to issue driving ban decisions and thus suspended driving licences had to be issued to drivers.

Traffic police officers were not properly trained in identifying drugged drivers. One reason was an imperfect and inefficient training system. Besides, the Commander-in-Chief of the Police failed to provide enough training vacancies. In the audited police stations as much as 40% of police officers did not complete a specialist course dedicated to traffic police.

Police officers from only 10 audited police stations revealed over a thousand drivers who did not comply with the driving ban imposed by courts. Besides, nearly 900 persons kept on driving despite having their driving licence suspended.

As a consequence, over 1000 times fewer drug tests than alcohol tests were made.

In the audited police stations, the Police tested over PLN 2 million drivers for alcohol content in the audited period. At the same time, only 1.5 thousand drivers were tested for illicit drugs – which NIK considered insufficient. Moreover, the essential periodic calibration of alcohol content sensors was not made. Therefore, the result could not be interpreted properly and in half of those police stations the measuring devices lost their warranty.

NIK auditors point to the decreasing headcount of traffic police officers.

Results of an anonymous survey made by NIK among traffic police officers are alarming. More than half of the respondents could not assess if the driver is drugged and what actions should be taken while testing the driver for drugs, for all types of drug tests. Besides, over ¾ of traffic police officers did not carry drug testing devices on each duty. At the same time, more than ⅔ of respondents came across a driver in the past year whose behaviour could point to drug use.


The Supreme Audit Office recommends that:

the Minister of Economic Development, Labour and Technology:

  • immediately take actions to implement effective regulations on the psychologist’s profession set out in the Act of 2001 on the psychologist’s profession and the professional self-government of psychologists;
  • make sure legal solutions come into force obliging employees to undergo preventive health check-ups conducted or ordered by employers in terms of alcohol and drug tests.

the Minister of Infrastructure

  • make sure legal solutions come into force obliging province marshals to supervise all eligible doctors and psychologists issuing certificates to persons who were referred to medical examinations and psychological tests due to drink or drug driving or causing an accident which resulted in severe injury or death;
  • take legislative measures to extend the scope of data set out in the Enclosure to the Ordinance of the Minister of Infrastructure in part 2 called Tasks related to issuing documents confirming entitlement to drive vehicles with the data concerning cases of suspension or cancellation of driving licence due to causing a road accident or collision under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

the Commander-in-Chief of the Police

  • cover traffic police officers with specialist training programmes in detection of  psychoactive substances;
  • intensify testing drivers for psychoactive substances; 
  • ensure required periodic calibration of measuring devices designed for alcohol and drug testing;
  • provide the Police with measuring equipment in the quantity tailored to the needs related to drug detection.

Besides NIK finds it necessary:

  • for the Minister of Infrastructure as the Chair of the National Traffic Safety Council to take up measures aimed at:  
    • standardising the scope of data in annual reports of that body referring to Road safety in Poland and activities in this area, so as to enable their comparison and analysis of trends in the following years;
    • educating the public on how alcohol affects human organism and what is the risk of damages resulting from drink driving.

Article informations

Date of creation:
26 October 2021 11:01
Date of publication:
26 October 2021 11:01
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
26 October 2021 11:01
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
Photo collage: a man holding a bottle behind the car wheel, a glass of vodka, man's hands rolling a marijuana joint © Adobe Stock

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