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Drug Use Rivaling Alcohol Use as Leading Cause of Fatal Accidents

Drunk driving is a serious issue. According to estimates, 30 people die every day in the U.S. due to car accidents involving alcohol-impaired drivers. That is around one death every hour of the day. In 2013, statistics revealed that 10,076 people were killed in drunk driving accidents, which accounted for nearly one-third of all motor vehicle-related deaths.

While alcohol is traditionally considered the most serious cause of impaired driving, driving under the influence of marijuana and other narcotics is quickly on the rise in the U.S. In fact, many believe that drugged driving is becoming just as dangerous and fatal as drunk driving.

Increased Drug Use in Drivers

In 2007, 12.4% of drivers tested positive for marijuana or illegal drug use. Comparatively, that number increased to 15.1% by 2013 and 2014 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It also showed that 38% of all people who died in accidents in 2013 that were tested had detectable levels of drugs in their system--nearly the same percentage found for alcohol.

The drugs drivers were most often found with in their system include:

  • Marijuana - 34.7%
  • Amphetamines - 9.7%
  • Hydrocodone - 6.9%
  • Oxycodone - 3.6%
  • Benzodiazepines - 4.5%
  • Cocaine - 4.5%

While marijuana is still illegal in most states and strictly regulated for those with approved usage, amphetamines are more difficult to monitor and determine an impairment level with. These are a class of stimulants that include ADHD medications and nasal decongestants, which means many may not have been used illegally, but just recklessly prior to driving.

Do Drugs Affect Drivers More Than Alcohol?

There are many studies being done to test how drugs and alcohol affect drivers. At the end of the day, how drug use or alcohol consumption impacts a driver will depend on a number of different factors, from the amount and type of drug to the speed at which the alcohol was consumed.

According to some studies and reports, it is believed that marijuana and other illegal drugs can double the risk of a driver getting into an vehicle accident. Still, this is very debatable between different groups, as the findings have been all over the place. Even the current standards for how much drugs in a person's system equate to "drugged driving" is controversial.

On the other hand, the dangers of intoxicated driving are much more irrefutable, as the specific blood-alcohol concentration amount for impairment has already been determined and supported by most people. Further, alcohol is known to make drivers go faster and become more reckless while marijuana specifically slows down driving speed and reaction time. When comparing those two drugs, alcohol is often considered more dangerous. Still, impaired driving, whether it be due to marijuana usage or alcohol consumption, has caused far too many fatal accidents over the years.

Bringing Road Safety Back to the Forefront

The rise of drugged driving can likely be credited to the popularity and increasing acceptance of marijuana. Regardless, it simply creates another area that law enforcement needs to monitor more strictly. As the number of drunk drivers has decreased over the last few decades thanks to such a strong focus, that same attention and focus needs to be applied to drugged drivers.

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