Study Finds Drug Use Involved in One-Quarter of Fatal Car Crashes

Posted on June 24, 2011

A new study finds that one-quarter of drivers who die in an auto accident test positive for drugs. Researchers with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Calverton, Maryland, say theirs is the first examination of the influence of drugs on driving. In all, more than 44,000 drivers who died in single-vehicle crashes between 1999 and 2009 were included in the survey taken from a government database of traffic fatalities. With nearly 25 percent testing positive for drugs, 37 percent also had alcohol in their system above the legal limit for intoxication, 0.08 percent. Fifty-eight percent had no alcohol in their system.

Drugs that showed up positive were marijuana (22 percent) stimulants (22 percent), and narcotics (9 percent). There is no evidence that combining alcohol and drugs produced a greater amount of impairment. And the study does not say whether or not it included prescription drugs, which can also impair a driver.

Ironically, just 19 states have laws that prohibit drugs while behind the wheel, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, and Florida is not among them. However, few states have enacted legislation that makes drug impaired driving an offense in and of itself.

This study is just a first step in identifying drug-impaired drivers. More needs to be done, since it is estimated that 48 percent of the adult population may be taking at least one type of prescription drug. And for the over-60 set, as many as 40 percent may be taking five or more prescription drugs ,for which little is known about adverse drug events and medication interactions.

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