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Study Shows Drugs Were in 1 in 5 Drivers Killed in Accidents

We have years of research and evidence on the effects of drunken driving and how often drinking and driving results in fatal car accidents, but we do not have the same amount of information on driving while under the influence of drugs. A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration focused on the effects of driving while under the influence of both legal and illegal drugs, and it is one of the first of its kind.

NHTSA researchers analyzed reports and records of fatal accidents from 2005 to 2009. They found that drugs are more commonly involved in fatal car accidents than previously believed, and it appears to be a growing trend. Nearly 22,000 drivers were killed in fatal car accidents in 2009. Of those 22,000, nearly 4,000 drivers tested positive for drugs in their systems. That amounts to 18 percent. In 2005, the first year for which data is available, that figure was only 13 percent.

The NHTSA researchers believe the actual number could be even higher. Only about 60 percent of the drivers who were killed in car accidents were tested for drugs. When only including the drivers that were given a post-mortem drug test, 33 percent tested positive for drugs.

The study took into account illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, morphine and LSD as well as inhalants and legal prescription drugs. Aspirin, nicotine, alcohol and drugs given to the drivers after the crash were not included in the study.

Many drugs can affect a driver's ability to react to the road and exercise judgment. While we have established definite blood-alcohol levels to show that a driver was impaired, we do not have a similar standard for levels of drugs in a driver's system. However, it is becoming clear that motorists who drive with drugs in their systems are in danger of having a car accident.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, "Gov't: Drugs were in 1 in 5 drivers killed in 2009," Ken Thomas, 11/30/2010

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