Government Study Finds Equal Number of Alcohol And Drug-Related Car Crash Fatalities

By McCarton Ackerman 10/01/15

How often are drugs found in the system of drivers under the influence?

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The findings of a new federal report have confirmed that getting behind the wheel while under the influence of illicit drugs is just as fatal as driving drunk.

The report, released by the Governors Highway Safety Association, noted that drugs were found in the systems of almost 40% of fatally injured drivers who were tested. The number of dead drivers who tested positive for drugs has soared from 29% in 2005 to 39.9% in 2013, putting it on par with the number of drivers who dies with alcohol in their system.

Marijuana legalization in states across the country is being blamed as a major factor in the increase of these drug-related fatalites. The report concluded that “marijuana is by far the most common drug that is used, found in roadside surveys, and found in fatally injured drivers. Marijuana use by drivers likely increases after a state permits recreational marijuana use.”

Marijuana is legal to some extent in 23 states and the District of Columbia, but driving while high remains illegal in all of them.

“We look to the federal government to take a leadership role in this issue similar to that of drunk driving and seat-belt use,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the GHSA, to the Washington Post. “Every state must take steps to reduce drug-impaired driving, regardless of the legal status of marijuana.”

Their recommendations included training police officers to better identify drivers who are under the influence of drugs. They also advised using roadside devices that test a person’s saliva to determine if they’ve used drugs.

However, the GHSA report also linked to studies which contradicted their findings. One study focused on California found no change in drug-related fatalities after marijuana was decriminalized there in 2011, while a separate study found that there was an increased marijuana presence in fatally injured drivers in only three of 14 states analyzed.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.