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Study Shows Steep Increase in Drug-Related Fatal Car Crashes

A new study shows that the number of fatal motor vehicle crashes involving marijuana and other drugs increased dramatically during the 2000s. The results are particularly timely, considering that the movement to legalize recreational marijuana use has gained momentum in the past couple of years. However, the study is based on data from just six states; even the researchers warn that the results are a snapshot of a trend, not a nationwide certainty that drugged driving is on the rise.

What those six states have in common is that they routinely perform toxicology tests on drivers involved in fatal crashes. One of the reasons we are discussing the study here is that one of those states is California.

The researchers analyzed crash data for the years 1999 through 2010, specifically looking for crashes that resulted in the driver’s death within an hour of the accident. They identified more than 23,500 instances and then looked at the results of those toxicology tests for those drivers.

The percent of crashes involving alcohol did not change much from year to year, hovering at about 40 percent. The percentage of crashes involving drugs, however, changed dramatically during the study period: from 16 percent in 1999 to 28 percent in 2010. The data also showed that 12 percent of the 2010 drug-related fatalities involved marijuana as the primary drug; in 1999, it was just 4 percent.

Gender and age were not determinative factors, but the combination of alcohol and drugs proved to be much more dangerous than alcohol alone. The risk of being in a fatal accident is 13 times greater if the driver has been drinking than if the driver is sober. The risk is 24 times greater if the driver has been drinking and using marijuana.

The results are fresh enough that national organizations have offered comments but have not discussed how or if they will use the data. Perhaps the main point of the study is, as a representative from Mothers Against Drunk Driving said, all of these deaths are preventable.

Source: ABC 13/HealthDay News, “Fatal car crashes involving pot use have tripled in U.S.,” Dennis Thompson, Feb. 4, 2014

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