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DUIDs Surpass DUIs as Cause of Fatal Vehicle Crashes

2015 was the first year that driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) surpassed those killed while driving under the influence of alcohol. Increased legal access to marijuana is correlated with the surge. Amphetamine use is also a factor.
April 29, 2017, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The study, "Drug Impaired Driving: A Guide for States" by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility, was released April 26. It analyzed fatal crashes in 2015 using the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS).

It found that drugs, be they legal or illegal, were present in 43 percent of fatally injured drivers, up from 28 percent in 2005, compared with 37 percent who tested above the legal limit for alcohol.

"Of the drivers who tested positive for drugs, more than a third had used marijuana and more than 9 percent had taken amphetamines," reports Ashley Halsey III for The Washington Post. In 2005, 28 percent of fatal crash victims tested positive for drugs.

“As drunken driving has declined, drugged driving has increased dramatically, and many of today’s impaired drivers are combining two or more substances,” said Ralph S. Blackman, president of the foundation, a nonprofit founded and funded by a group of distillers.

This is the second report by GHSA and the foundation. The first, released in September 2015 is based on 2013 FARS, showed that drugs accounted for 40 percent of driver fatalities, about the same as alcohol-related deaths.

Medical and recreational use of marijuana has been growing in the United States. According to the April 2007 infographic map of the U.S., nine states plus the District of Columbia now allow recreational use of the drug.

Major challenges for reducing drug-impaired driving include drivers being unaware that drug use affects driving, and testing the drivers for drug use is more complex than establishing a blood alcohol standard of 0.08.

Surveys of regular marijuana users in Colorado and Washington state which [have] legalized recreational use found that almost none of them thought marijuana use impaired their driving, while they believed drinking alcohol did.

The report lists a total of seven bullets explaining why drug-impaired driving is more complex than alcohol-impaired driving for many reasons.

Credit: Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA)

"Although the liberalization of marijuana laws and increase in drug-use fatalities might lead to an easy conclusion, the report cites European studies that found marijuana use slightly increased the risk of a crash, while opioids, amphetamines and mixing alcohol with drugs greatly increased the risk of a crash," adds Halsey.

Still, it's hard to ignore the finding in Colorado that marijuana-related traffic deaths increased by 48 percent since the enactment of Colorado Amendment 64 in November 2012.

Halsey recognizes the opioid epidemic: "heroin use and the abuse of prescription drugs — is well established. In 2015, more than 33,000 people fatally overdosed on opioids, almost equal to the 35,095 people killed that year in all traffic crashes," he reports. However, there were few references to them in the 56-page report [pdf], unlike marijuana which was widely covered.

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Published on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 in The Washington Post
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