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Drug use more common than suspected in fatal car accidents

A recent study that examined fatalities in single-vehicle car accidents found that fully one-fourth of all drivers killed in these crashes tested positive for drugs. The researchers looked at single-vehicle fatalities over a ten-year period, which amounted to more than 44,000 drivers.

Of the drivers killed, 37 percent of them had alcohol in their systems at levels above the legal limit. There were 5 percent that had alcohol, but within the legal limit. Fifty-eight percent of the drivers killed had no alcohol in their systems, but even these could have been among the 24.9 percent that had drugs in their system at the time of their fatal car accident.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. Miami car accident attorneys following news of the study noted that marijuana and stimulants were the most popular drugs among drivers killed in car accidents. Each of those catagories accounted for 22 percent of the drugs found in drugged driving fatalities. There were 9 percent of the drivers who were using narcotics before their crash.

A previous study performed in 2007 found that around 16 percent of all weekend nighttime drivers have illegal drugs in their systems. Before the Pacific Institute study, though, it was not known how prevalent drugs are in single-vehicle fatalities.

Interestingly, the researchers found that if a driver had both drugs and alcohol in their systems, it was the alcohol that caused the most impairment. Whenever alcohol was present, it essentially took over and superseded impairments caused by legal or illegal drugs.

Source: USA Today "Drug use involved in 25% of fatal crashes, study finds" 6/23/2011

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