As more states are consider legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use, we cannot ignore the issue of drugged driving. The legalization of cannabis may come at a great cost to highway safety. Fatal car crashes involving drivers who have used marijuana have tripled in recent years in the United States.
Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that drivers who used marijuana are more than twice as likely as other drivers to be involved in a car accident. And increasingly, drugs are linked to fatal accidents.
The researchers drew on data from six states that perform toxicological tests on drivers killed in crashes. Of those killed in 2010, 28% tested positive for non-alcohol drugs, with marijuana being the most commonly detected substance. In 1999, only 16% tested positive for non-alcohol drugs.
Throughout the same period, alcohol contributed to about 40 percent of traffic deaths.
The researchers concluded that if the current trend continues, non-alcohol drugs will overtake alcohol in five to 10 years as the most common substance involved in deaths related to impaired driving.
The researchers also found that the combined use of marijuana and alcohol increases a driver’s risk of death dramatically. When compared with drivers who are sober, those under the influence of alcohol have a 13 times higher risk of being involved in a fatal crash. However, if a driver uses both alcohol and marijuana, that risk is 24 times higher.
The findings are important for anyone concerned about traffic safety. While the dangers of drunk driving are well-known, there may be less awareness of the dangers of drugged driving. Moreover, drunk driving carries a greater social stigma than drugged driving.
The truth is that smoking marijuana, whether legally or illegally, can prevent a driver from safely operating a motor vehicle. A person who drives after using marijuana puts others’ lives at risk.