NHTSA Data Shows Drugs Often Involved in Fatal Crashes

While we have many years of data showing a strong connection between alcohol use and fatal car accidents, we do not have the same amount of data regarding the connection between fatal car accidents and drug use. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a new report today that shows a disturbing trend in traffic fatalities. The NHTSA tracked fatally injured drivers for drug use, and found that the percentage of drivers who had drugs in their systems has increased over the past five years, and peaked in 2009. The types of drugs recorded in the study included illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and over the counter drugs.

The NHTSA tracked all drivers killed in motor vehicle accidents from 2005 through 2009, then measured the percentage of drivers who were given post-mortem drug tests. In 2009, 13,801 of the 21,798 drivers killed in accidents were given a drug test. Of the drivers tested, 3,952 had drugs in their system. That figure represents 18 percent of all drivers killed and nearly 29 percent of the drivers tested.

The NHTSA used state government sources to compile data on the amount of fatalities, whether or not the driver was tested for drugs, and what the results of the drug test were. Many of the drivers tested had unknown results. When only measuring drivers with known test results and eliminating drivers who were not tested or had unknown test results, the number of deceased drivers with drugs in their system increases to 33 percent.

The NHTSA is cautious about any precise interpretation of the data and warns that there is a large variation in how states collected the data. Furthermore, there may be a systemic bias in choosing which drivers were tested, which could result in a higher percentage of those being tested giving a positive result than if all drivers were tested uniformly. However, the NHTSA believes there is a definite correlation between drug use and fatal accidents that deserves immediate attention and further study.

Motorists owe a duty to themselves and to everyone around them to drive with their complete attention focused on driving, and the NHTSA study shows that motorists who drive under the influence of drugs are often unable to focus on the task of driving. In announcing the findings of the study, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said, “Today’s report provides a warning signal that too many Americans are driving after having taken drugs, not realizing the potential for putting themselves and others on the highway at risk.”

Source: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: NHTSA Reports Drug Use Among Fatally Injured Drivers Increased Over the Last Five Years; 11/30/2010

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