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Mental Health Center

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Fatal Car Crashes Involving Pot Use Have Tripled in U.S., Study Finds

Researchers note that increase included men and women, and all age groups


The researchers found that the increase in marijuana use occurred across all age groups and in both sexes. Their findings were published online Jan. 29 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Marijuana impairs driving in much the same way that alcohol does, explained Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. It impairs judgment, affects vision and makes a person more distractible and more likely to take risks while driving.

"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," said Jan Withers, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

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

The movement toward marijuana legalization makes the findings of this study incredibly important to traffic safety officials, Adkins noted.

"It's a wake-up call for us in highway safety," Adkins said. "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."

The problem is, marijuana and drug use before driving does not have the same stigma surrounding it as drunk driving has gained over the years, he added.

"The public knows about drunk driving, but I don't think they have awareness of drugged driving, so this is a huge issue," Adkins said. "We need to alert the public that if you've used any type of substance, you should not get behind the wheel. We need to create that culture where, like drunk driving, it is not acceptable."

Police also do not have a test as accurate and convenient as the breathalyzer for checking a driver's marijuana intoxication during a traffic stop, Li said.

A test is available that uses a driver's saliva to check cannabis levels, but it's not as reliable and accurate as the Breathalyzer, and has not been widely adopted by the police, he said.

"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.

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