Study Finds Rise in Non-Alcohol Drug Use – like Marijuana – in Fatal Accidents

Drugged driving is an issue gaining greater attention in the U.S. Although most people understand its dangers and know it’s illegal, there are new concerns being raised with the push in some states to legalize marijuana.

Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana use could potentially lead to increases in drugged driving. A driver can be cited for impaired driving if he or she tests positive for five nanograms per milliliter of blood of the active ingredient of marijuana (THC).

But this isn’t a flawless measure of determining impairment. Even before enactment of the law, though, rates of drugged driving-related traffic fatalities increased in the United States, according to a new study conducted at the Mailman School of Public Health.

New Findings Regarding Marijuana Use and Fatal Accidents

Researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that the number of fatal motor vehicle accidents involving marijuana use has tripled in the past ten years. The researchers examined data from six states – which did not include Colorado – between 1999 and 2010.

They found that prevalence of non-alcohol drugs in drivers killed within an hour of a traffic accident was 16.6 percent in 1999 and increased to 28.3 percent in 2010. Rates of marijuana presence rose from 4.2 percent in 1999 to 12.2 percent in 2010.

Dr. Guohua Li, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University and a co-author on the study, notes that risk of a fatal crash for an alcohol impaired driver is 13 times that of a sober person, but the risk is 24 times higher if the person is impaired by alcohol and marijuana.

Researchers note that the results of their study don’t necessarily mean that all drivers who tested positive for marijuana were impaired by the drug. Since it can remain in someone’s system for as long as a week after it’s used, it’s possible that it didn’t play any role.

At the same time, with more and more states passing (or considering passing) laws legalizing marijuana use, it does raise concerns of the potential dangers that states could face with more people using marijuana medicinally or recreationally.

How Marijuana Impairs a Driver and Affects an Accident Case

Impairment from marijuana can affect judgment and ability to foresee a dangerous situation (such as vehicles suddenly slowing down or stopping). There may be reduced coordination and reaction time in marijuana users. A driver under the influence of marijuana may also be more likely to take risks behind the wheel; speeding, running a red light, and making frequent lane changes are examples.

Further, law enforcement has the ability to check someone’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level during a traffic stop to determine if the person is legally intoxicated, but there aren’t devices accurate enough to check for impairment related to marijuana use.

If someone was driving while under the influence of a drug like marijuana and subsequently caused an accident, the drugged driver can be liable for any damages related to the accident. Consult with attorney D.J. Banovitz if you or a loved one was seriously injured in a Denver traffic accident related to marijuana or other drugs. Call us at 303-300-5060.

D.J. Banovitz’ career has always concentrated on trial practice and he has litigated hundreds of cases. His passion and sole career focus has been to seek justice for people suffering from personal injuries as the result of someone else’s negligence. The hallmark of the Law Office of D.J. Banovitz, is the total commitment to professionalism, quality, and personalized care of your injury case. D.J. has dedicated his professional life to helping those most in need and is a proud and active member of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association. His experience includes volunteering for Colorado Rural Legal Services in Montrose, the Colorado Aids Project, consumer law, family law, criminal defense, and Alternative Defense Counsel for juveniles in Denver.