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Study: drugs, alcohol may play unexpected role in fatal crashes

It is common sense that many of the terrible car accidents that we read about in the news involved alcohol or drugs, but an interesting statistic was recently revealed that sheds a little more light on this trend. More than half of the drivers who have been killed in car accidents in the U.S. reportedly had consumed drugs or alcohol during or before the accident.

This information comes from a study that was compiled using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regarding traffic fatalities here in Washington and in 13 other states.

According to the study, male drivers and those driving at night are most likely to have alcohol or illicit or prescription drugs show up on a toxicology test after a fatal car accident.

While it is not debated whether drugs or alcohol impair driver's abilities, researchers say that more analysis is necessary in order to understand whether any certain drug in particular, or a cocktail of drugs, is causing most crashes.

The study involved more than 20,000 drivers who were fatally injured in a car accident between 2005 and 2009. The most common drug to appear on toxicology screens was alcohol, which was followed by marijuana and stimulants such as Adderall and amphetamines.

While less than half of the women killed in accidents had drugs or alcohol in their system, 60 percent of men had one or the other, or both.

Researchers reportedly did not have data to show them just how much of a drug or alcohol was present in a driver. This is especially notable because some drugs, such as marijuana, can remain in a person's system for weeks after smoking.

The study suggests that work must be done in order to determine exactly how much of a drug--including legal, prescription drugs--are associated with a risk of a fatal crash. And, although .08 percent blood alcohol content is the cut-off for alcohol impairment, it might be worth studying whether this is an accurate place to draw the line.

Source: CNBC, "Alcohol, drugs common in fatal crashes," September 6, 2012

  • Our law office works with families who lost a loved one in a fatal car accident. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Seattle Wrongful Death page.

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