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Sharp Rise in Drugged Driving Fatalities

drugged drivingThe prevalence of non-alcohol drugs that have been detected in fatally injured drivers in the United States has been steadily rising, tripling from 1999 to 2010.[1] Most commonly, the drivers tested positive for marijuana.1

Therefore, to assess these trends, researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health examined the toxicology reports from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.1 They found that of the 23,591 drivers who were killed within one hour of a crash, 39.7 percent tested positive for alcohol, and 24.8 percent for other drugs.1 While the percent of positive results for alcohol remained stable, the prevalence of non-alcohol drugs rose from 16.6 percent in 1999 to 28.3 percent in 2010.1 Marijuana rates alone rose from 4.2 percent to 12.2 percent.1

The study is based on data from six U.S. states that routinely perform toxicology tests on drivers involved in fatal car crashes: California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.1 Results showed that alcohol involvement was more prevalent in men (43.6 percent) than in women (26.1 percent); however, the rising trends were found for both sexes.1

“Although earlier research showed that drug use is associated with impaired driving performance and increased crash risk, trends in narcotic involvement in driver fatalities have been understudied,” said Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention. “Given the increasing availability of marijuana and the ongoing opioid overdose epidemic, understanding the role of controlled substances in motor vehicle crashes if of significant public health importance.”1

Joanne Brady, lead author of the study, noted that research from 2007 to 2013 showed an increase in drivers testing positive for marijuana in roadside surveys, as well as drivers involved in fatal crashes in California and Colorado.1

“The marked increase in its prevalence as reported in the present study is likely germane to the growing decriminalization of marijuana,” said Brady. “Although each of [the states who have legislation pending to decriminalize medical marijuana] have laws that prohibit driving under the influence of marijuana, it is still conceivable that its decriminalization may result in increases in crashes involving marijuana.”1

According to Dr. Li, “It is important to interpret the prevalence of non-alcohol drugs reported in this study as an indicator of drug use but not necessarily as a measurement of drug impairment. To control the ongoing epidemic of drugged driving, it is imperative to strengthen and expand drugs testing and intervention programs for drivers.”1



[1] Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. (2014, January 30). Signs point to sharp rise in drugged driving fatalities. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140130111003.htm

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