SEATTLE (CBS Seattle) – According to a recent study, fatal car crashes involving pot use have tripled in the U.S.

“Currently, one of nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana,” Dr. Guohua Li, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia, and co-author of the study told HealthDay News.

Researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health gathered data from six states – California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia – that perform toxicology tests on drivers involved in fatal car accidents. This data included over 23,500 drivers that died within one hour of a crash between 1999 and 2010.

Li reported in the study that alcohol contributed to about 40 percent of traffic fatalities throughout the decade.

The researchers found that drugs played an increasing role in fatal traffic accidents. Drugged driving accounted for more than 28 percent of traffic deaths in 2010, which is 16 percent more than it was in 1999.

The researchers also found that marijuana was the main drug involved in the increase. It contributed to 12 percent of fatal crashes, compared to only 4 percent in 1999.

“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 increased to 24 times that of a sober person.”

Researchers found that the increase in marijuana use occurred across all ages for males and females.

Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, told HealthDay News that marijuana impairs driving in much the same way that alcohol does.

“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,” Jan Withers, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, added.

“MADD is concerned anytime we hear about an increase in impaired driving, since it’s 100 percent preventable,” Withers said. “When it comes to drugged driving versus drunk driving, the substances may be different but the consequences are the same – needless deaths and injuries.”

Adkins noted that the legalization of marijuana in some states makes these findings important to traffic safety officials.

“It’s a wake-up call for us in highway safety,” Adkins added. “The legalization of pot is going to spread to other states. It’s not even a partisan issue at this point. Our expectation is this will become the norm rather than the rarity.”

Li added that police do not have a test as accurate as the Breathalyzer to check a driver’s marijuana intoxication level.

“In the case of marijuana, I would say in maybe five years or more you will see some testing method or technique that may not as accurate as the Breathalyzer, but is more accurate than the testing devices we have today,” Li said.

The study was published online in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (66)
  1. Judy Zitko says:

    In this article it does not state the fact that we can test positive for marijuana for up to 30 days, long after the “buzz” has worn off, so that’s a flaw in the study right off. It also doesn’t state whether those testing “positive” for marijuana also tested positive for other drugs such as alcohol or harder drugs like heroin, cocaine, opiods, etc. let’s be honest and compare apple with apples here. Many years ago when I smoked marijuana on some occassions and also drank alcohol I can attest that I drove much differently when under the influence of alcohol than marijuana. Under alcohol people tend to drive faster and more reckless and contrary to what this “study” states, people high on pot tend to drive like the first time, slowly and with extreme caution and that’s not just me but most everyone I knew, so pardon me if I think this “study” is a joke because it’s designed to oppose the legalization of marijuana and keep it a criminal offense to keep lining the pockets of the for profit private prisons and the pharma co’s.

  2. Dan Bergeron says:

    This study also doesn’t tell you how many vehicles are on the road in 1999 vs. 2010 it stands to reason more drivers more accidents. that would change the percentage quit a bit they never tell you how many drivers are on the road from one time period to another just how many more accidents their are now.

  3. Carl Mayo says:

    HOW exactly was this “tripled” number arrived at?
    Were there suddenly 3 times as many fatal accidents?
    Or were there more accident victims who just happened to have THC in their system, but with no way of knowing whether they were under the influence at the time of the accident?

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