Pot smokers, this article is for you. The number of fatal car crashes in which pot use was a factor has tripled in a ten-year period from 2000 to 2010. The study, conducted and published by Columbia University and reported on by MSN Autos, shows that the number of vehicle accidents where drivers were impaired by the use of marijuana have increased three-fold in the last 10 years.
Those statistics “could raise new concerns about the growing push to legalize weed, a movement that has gained momentum since both Colorado and Washington approved the public use of the drug last year,” says the editorial piece at MSN Autos.
A similar finding in the state of Colorado was reported on last month by MedicalXpress.com. “The proportion of marijuana-positive drivers involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes in Colorado has increased dramatically since the commercialization of medical marijuana in the middle of 2009.” In January of this year, Colorado legalized the commercial use of marijuana.
In the Columbia study, researchers analyzed car crash stats and toxicology reports from California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia. They looked at close to 24,000 drivers who died in crashes between 1999 and 2010. In 1999, only four percent of the crashes involved pot. In 2010, that number had risen to 12 percent. Marijuana was found to have played some role – either because the driver had smoked pot or the victim was hit by someone who had.
“Currently, one of nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana,” said study co-author Dr. Guohua Li. “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.”
The study coincides with other research that raises questions about the use of weed by young people. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found in a 2010 survey that one in eight high school seniors admitted driving after smoking marijuana. Federal data meanwhile shows that nearly a half of drivers fatally injured in a crash who tested positive for marijuana were under 25.
While alcohol continues to be the leading impairment that causes car crashes, Li also noted that mixing pot and alcohol – a popular combo – dramatically increases a driver's risk of death.
"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 increases to 24 times that of a sober person."