Drugged Driving Deaths on the Rise as Drunk Driving Decreases


For the first time ever, statistics show drivers killed in automobile collisions are more likely to be high than drunk. In 2015, drivers involved in fatal accidents were tested for the presence of an illegal or legal drug. According to the Washington Post, forty-three percent of those drivers were found to have used an illegal or legal (prescription) drug, as opposed to 37 percent whose blood alcohol levels were above the legal limit.

Of those drivers who tested positive for drugs, more than a third had used marijuana, while about 10 percent had taken amphetamines. Further, more and more drivers are combining two or more substances, such as alcohol and methamphetamine, alcohol and marijuana, prescription drugs and alcohol, and any number of other combinations.

Opioids Play a Significant Role in Drugged Driving

The opioid epidemic is also contributing to drugged driving—in 2015, more than 33,000 people fatally overdosed on opioid drugs (prescription opioids as well as heroin and fentanyl). To put this number in perspective, there were 35,095 people killed in car collision during the same year. In 2005, about 28 percent of drivers who died in a car collision tested positive for drugs, while a decade later, 43 percent of drivers who died in a car collision tested positive for drugs.

Liberalization of Marijuana Laws Responsible for an Increase in Drugged Driving?

Medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states and D.C., recreational use of marijuana is now legal in eight states and D.C., and the use of marijuana has been decriminalized in 21 states. While the liberalization of marijuana might lead to an easy conclusion, the study in question cites a number of European studies which found that marijuana use only slightly increased the risk of a car collision, while opioids, alcohol mixed with drugs and amphetamines significantly increased the risk of a car collision. Former NHTSA official claims drugged driving is a “complicated” issue, particularly because there is no “standard” used in drug testing (like a BAC of 0.08 for alcohol) and because the effects of any given drug can have vastly different results among users.

Young Males Already More Likely to Be Involved in a Car Collision—and More Likely to Smoke Marijuana

There is another factor regarding marijuana use and driving accidents—while studies mostly show that drivers who have recently used cannabis do have a higher risk of being involved in an auto accident, the group of drivers most likely to be using marijuana (young males) are already more likely to be involved in a car collision. America’s crackdown on drunk driving has been extremely effective—there are now 80 percent fewer alcohol-impaired drivers on the roadways than there were in the early 1970’s.

National Roadside Survey Results

A voluntary, anonymous survey, known as the National Roadside Survey was last conducted in 2014, and over the past four decades, has been conducted approximately once every eight years. Drivers see road signs which tells of the survey ahead, and can voluntarily take part in the survey if they choose, and are usually paid a fee to do so. This survey gathers information from drivers across the nation—in 2014, some 9,000 drivers participated in the survey with the following findings:

Of those drivers who drove after dark on the weekends, about 8 percent tested positive for alcohol.

Of that 8 percent, about 1.5 percent had a BAC higher than 0.08 (the legal limit in all states).

This 8 percent is down 80 percent from 1973, and down 30 percent from 2007.

In totally opposite findings, the same survey found that a full 20 percent of those who were driving after dark on a weekend, tested positive for drugs—a number which is up 16.3 percent from 2007.

The number of weekend, nighttime drivers who tested positive for marijuana increased by 50 percent from 2007 to 2014, with about 12.6 percent of these drivers testing positive for the drug.

At least 15 percent of these drivers had at least one illegal drug in their system.

NHTSA Survey Seeks to Determine How Alcohol and Drugs Impact Auto Crashes

An NHTSA survey conducted in Virginia Beach over a 20-month period sought to establish how both drug and alcohol use may impact auto crashes. In this particular study, marijuana was the only drug which showed up in the participants of the study, and the study found that while marijuana users were 25 percent more likely to be involved in a car collision, drivers with an alcohol level of 0.08 percent were 4 times more likely to crash. Of the 3,000 drivers who were involved in a car collision, 66 percent of those crashes resulted only in property damage, 1 percent involved a fatality, and 33 percent involved one or more injuries.

Once Again, Young Males Statistically More Likely to Crash—and to Use Marijuana

There is a caveat in this study regarding marijuana use—the 25 percent increase in risk of having an auto collision for those using marijuana was only seen in one group—young males. Since that group is already statistically more likely to have an auto collision, the results may not be all that significant. Further, this study did not control for amount of marijuana, the potency of the drug, the driver’s prior experiences with marijuana and individually different responses to the drug.

Police Departments Increase Training for Officers to Detect Presence of Drugs

Many police departments have substantially increased training for their officers to enable them to detect the presence of drugs, other than alcohol when questioning impaired drivers. For marijuana, at one time, the presence of the drug was easily detectable by smell, however there are many cannabis products on the market now which do not depend on smoking the drug, therefore there is no smell. Drug Recognition Experts—police officers trained to recognize drug use among drivers—are more and more often charging drivers with driving under the influence if there are any drugs at all found in the vehicle.

Contact Our Jackson Car Accident Lawyers

If you are involved in a car accident with a drunk driver in Jackson, Hattiesburg, Meridian, or anywhere in the State of Mississippi, the best thing you can do is to contact an experienced Mississippi car accident attorney who will protect your rights and assist you in receiving a fair settlement for your injuries.

 At Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, our attorneys believe in fighting aggressively for injured Mississippi car accident victims – to ensure that they receive the money they need to fully recover. We can help you obtain the money you need to fully recover. Contact Coxwell & Associates today at (601) 265-7766

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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