Study finds rise in fatal crashes involving marijuana

Legalized pot smoking in Colorado is coinciding with research suggesting that fatal crashes involving drivers using marijuana have tripled in a decade.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health based their study on data from 1999 to 2010 in six states that conduct toxicology tests on drivers in fatal crashes. More than 28 percent of the drivers who died in crashes tested positive for drugs in 2010, compared with 12 percent in 1999.

Marijuana was the primary drug identified in tests, found in 12 percent of the drivers killed in 2010, compared with 4 percent in 1999.

Dr. Guohua Li, co-author of the study, told HealthDay News that currently one in nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana. If the trend continues, he said, drugged-driving fatalities will outpace drunk driving deaths.

Motorists under the influence of alcohol are 13 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than sober drivers, he said.  But if a driver is drinking and using marijuana, the risk of a fatal accident is 24 times that of a sober driver.

Impaired driving as a result of marijuana use remains illegal in Colorado.

Still, the state is not likely to reverse course any time soon on legalized marijuana. In January alone, the state reaped $2 million in taxes on marijuana.

The Colorado Revenue Department reported that businesses sold more than $14 million worth of recreational marijuana in the first month of legalization. Voters approved a 12.9 percent sales tax and 15 percent excise tax on pot sales. The initial $40 million of that is to be spent building schools, with the rest to be spent by the state legislature.

Currently, law enforcement officers have limited tools to test drivers for marijuana impairment. But Dr. Li of Columbia University predicted that in five or six years more accurate devices will be available to test for marijuana impairment.

Drivers who drive while stoned put themselves and everyone at risk. Those who cause car accidents as a result of alcohol or drug impairment may be held liable for the harm they cause.

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