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Drug Use And Fatal Car Wrecks

Recent polls conducted by CNN and CBS indicate that the American public supports the legalization of marijuana for the first time. According to a study conducted by Columbia University researchers, pot use is increasingly a factor in deadly car accidents. Over the past 10 years, the number of fatal crashes in which a driver had marijuana in his or her system tripled. The study co-author indicated that one-ninth of the drivers in fatal car accidents would test positive for marijuana. If that rate continues to increase as it has over the past decade, substances other than alcohol would quickly take over as the leading cause of fatal impaired driving accidents.

Illinois is one of six states that tests for marijuana following a deadly car crash. Data collected by those six states was used to determine how prevalent marijuana use has been in fatal accidents since 1999. From 1999 to 2010, drugged driving went from being a factor in 16 percent of deadly crashes to 28 percent. The increase was noted among men and women, as well as across all age groups. Crashes specifically tied to marijuana use went from 4 percent to 12 percent during that time period.

Evaluating the impact of drug use on highway safety is not a simple matter. Testing for cannabis in a driver's system is not as easy or as accurate as testing for alcohol. Critics of drugged driving laws have complained that cannabis may show up on a test days after it was used. There is no testing method that matches the ability of the breathalyzer to determine the level of impairment suffered by a marijuana user.

Pot use slows the reflexes, impairs vision and makes a person more prone to distraction. If the trend of legalizing marijuana continues, it will likely lead to more injuries and deaths caused by drugged drivers. It is important for those concerned with highway safety to consider the problem and find ways to discourage drugged driving before the problem gets out of hand.

Source: WebMD, "Fatal Car Crashes Involving Pot Use Have Tripled," by Dennis Thompson, 4 February 2014

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