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Marijuana Use Tied to Fatal Car Crashes

Update Date: Feb 05, 2014 11:18 AM EST

With the legalization of medicinal marijuana in some states across the United States, several advocates have stated that marijuana is safer than other substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. Despite this claim, a new report tied marijuana use to fatal car crashes. According to the researchers from the Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, fatal car crashed tied to marijuana use has tripled within the past decade.

"Currently, one of nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana," said co-author Dr. Guohua Li, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia reported by WebMD. "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."

For this study, the researchers analyzed data on crashes that occurred in six states, which were California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia. These states routinely conduct toxicology tests on all drivers involved in fatal car crashes. The researchers had information on over 23,500 drivers who died within the first hour of the crash. The accidents occurred between 1999 and 2010.

The researchers discovered that around 40 percent of the crashes could be blamed on alcohol. This percentage remained quite steady throughout the 10 years. For drugs, on the other hand, the researchers found that crashes related to drugs increased steadily within the decade. In 1999, around 16 percent of traffic deaths were caused by drugs. In 2010, that percentage rose to 28. The researchers found that specifically for marijuana, the drug was tied to four percent of fatal car crashes in 1999. In 2010, that number rose to 12 percent. The researchers stated that in many of the cases, it was the combined use of marijuana and alcohol that made the situation extremely dangerous.

"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 said. "But if the driver is under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana, their risk increases to 24 times that of a sober person."

Jan Withers, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, added, "This study shows an alarming increase in driving under the influence of drugs and, in particular, it shows an increase in driving under the influence of both alcohol and drugs."

The researchers stated that with the legalization of pot in more and more states, state and federal officials might need to find ways of better regulating the drugs so that people learn about the fatal consequences of driving while intoxicated and/or drugged. The study's findings were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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