Fatal Crashes Involving Marijuana Higher: Pot Prevalence in Fatal Crashes Increased from 4.2% to 12.2%

Along with the legalization of marijuana on the rise, the increase in DUI crashes related to marijuana intoxication is also on the rise. Fatal crashes involving marijuana use tripled from 1999 to 2010, according to researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health report.

Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is a safety issue of increasing public concern. Using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System for 1999-2010, researcher assessed trends in alcohol and other drugs detected in drivers who were killed within one hour of a motor vehicle crash in six US states (California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia) that routinely performed toxicological testing on drivers involved in such crashes. Of the 23,591 drivers studied, 39.7% tested positive for alcohol and 24.8% for other drugs.

“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, but if the driver is under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana, their risk increases to 24 times that of a sober person.”

— Dr. Guohua Li (lead researcher)

During the study period, the prevalence of positive results for non-alcohol drugs rose from 16.6% in 1999 to 28.3% in 2010, while the prevalence of positive results for alcohol remained about the same. The most commonly detected non-alcohol drug was cannabinol (the active ingredient in marijuana). The prevalence of cannabinol in crashes increased from 4.2% in 1999 to 12.2% in 2010. The increase in the prevalence of non-alcohol drugs was observed in all age groups and both sexes. The results of the study indicate that non-alcohol drugs, particularly marijuana, are increasingly detected in fatally injured drivers.

“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. “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.”

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