Study: Drugged driving increasing fast, outpacing drunk driving

Friday, February 7, 2014

Researchers have found a disturbing upward trend in drug-related fatal traffic accidents. They warn, however, that the data comes from just six states, the only states that routinely run toxicology tests on drivers involved in fatal crashes. Texas is not one of those states, but that does not mean that Texans should not pay attention. The state Department of Transportation has gathered data from the tests that are run, and the results are close to the study’s.

The study showed that the number of crashes involving marijuana did not just rise over the study period (1999 through 2010); it rose dramatically. The increase is especially alarming when compared to alcohol-related crashes.

In 1999, just about 40 percent of fatal accidents involved drunk drivers. By 2010, not much had changed: Just about 40 percent of fatal accidents involved drunk drivers. With drugged drivers, though, the 1999 data showed around 16 percent of crashes involved drivers impaired by marijuana or other drugs. In 2010? A whopping 28 percent were linked to drugged driving. Of those accidents, 4 percent involved marijuana in 1999, and 12 percent involved marijuana in 2010.

In Texas, alcohol was involved in 481 fatal accidents in 2003 and 567 in 2012. (TDOT does not have data available for the 10-year period covered by the study, so this is only a rough comparison.) While the study showed alcohol-related fatalities being stable over the 10-year period, that wasn’t the case here. In 2012, alcohol was a factor in 35 percent of crashes; in 2003, it was a factor in 23 percent of the accidents.

For drug-related crashes, the increase outpaces the study. In 2003, 4 percent of crashes involved a driver impaired by drugs. In 2012, the percentage more than doubled: Drugs were involved in 11 percent of crashes.

Just two states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana so far, and it looks as if opposition in other state legislatures is mellowing. What the study shows is that there are other policy considerations that must be included in the debate. All of these deaths are preventable, but drugged-driving laws and education programs have not quite caught up with the trends.

Sources: 

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

Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, “Texas Motor Vehicle Crash Statistics – 2012 & 2003,” accessed online Feb. 5, 2014 

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