There are consequences of the increased prevalence of marijuana use in society—one of which is undoubtedly drugged driving. According to a new study from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, fatal car accidents that involved marijuana have tripled in the last decade, which suggests that the issue will likely become worse as more states push for the legalization of marijuana.
"Currently, one of nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana," co-author Dr. Guohua Li, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia, told HealthDay News. "If this trend continues, in five or six years non-alcohol drugs will overtake alcohol to become the most common substance involved in deaths related to impaired driving."
The research team drew its conclusions from crash statistics from six states that routinely perform toxicology tests on drivers involved in fatal car wrecks -- California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia. The statistics included more than 23,500 drivers who died within one hour of a crash between 1999 and 2010.
Alcohol contributed to about the same percentage of traffic fatalities throughout the decade, about 40 percent, Li said.
But drugs played an increasingly prevalent role in fatal crashes, the researchers found. Drugged driving accounted for more than 28 percent of traffic deaths in 2010, up from more than 16 percent in 1999.
Marijuana proved to be the main drug involved in the increase, contributing to 12 percent of 2010 crashes compared with 4 percent in 1999.
An even deadlier combination is the mixture of alcohol and marijuana. “If a driver is under the influence of alcohol, their risk of a fatal crash is 13 times higher than the risk of the driver who is not under the influence of alcohol," Li told HealthDaily News. "But if the driver is under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana, their risk increases to 24 times that of a sober person."
Similar to alcohol, marijuana affects a driver’s judgment, vision, and makes a person more distractible, Deputy Executive Director of the Governors Highway Safety Association Jonathan Adkins explained to HealthDaily.
And groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving are concerned because drugged driving is completely preventable. “When it comes to drugged driving versus drunk driving, the substances may be different but the consequences are the same—needless deaths and injuries,” Jan Withers, national president of MADD, told HealthDaily.
"The public knows about drunk driving, but I don't think they have awareness of drugged driving, so this is a huge issue," Adkins said. "We need to alert the public that if you've used any type of substance, you should not get behind the wheel. We need to create that culture where, like drunk driving, it is not acceptable."