Drug-Impaired Driving Overtakes Drunk Driving as Cause of Fatal Car Accidents in the U.S.

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According to a newly released study looking at fatal motor vehicle accidents between the years 2006 and 2016, deadly drug-related auto accidents now outnumber deadly alcohol-related accidents in the United States. Researchers found that 44% of drivers killed in auto accidents tested positive for drugs—a significant increase from 28% in 2006—while alcohol was involved in 38% of driver deaths. In the drug-related auto accidents, more than half the drivers had marijuana, opioids, or a combination of the two in their systems.

Some experts link the increase of drug-impaired fatal car accidents with the legalization of marijuana in many states combined with the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation. California legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and recreational marijuana in 2016. Meanwhile, the number of opioid-related deaths in California is less than the national average (4.9 deaths per 100,000 people compared to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 people), but the number of heroin and synthetic opioid-related deaths has increased in California since 2012.

Testing & Stopping Drug-Impaired Drivers

Alongside this new data, many experts and law enforcement recognize that it’s hard to test a driver for drugs. After using marijuana, THC stays in a person’s system for days, long after he or she is impaired. Many opioids are prescription drugs with widely varying effects. In one report, a woman on sedatives and painkillers caused a deadly car accident only 19 minutes after being involved in a fender bender. The police officer at the scene of the first accident let her go because he didn’t see any evidence of impairment. Police officers in states where marijuana use is legal also point out the difficulty of arresting a driver for drug-impaired driving when he or she passes the standard field sobriety tests but has clearly been using marijuana.

Under California law, there is no threshold level for drug-impaired driving, like with .08 blood-alcohol content for drunk driving. This means more people may attempt to drive while under the influence of marijuana or opioids than alcohol because drug impairment is in many ways subjective, not only to the drug user him or herself but also to police officers.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident involving drugs or alcohol, please contact the California personal injury lawyers at Hanning & Sacchetto, LLP. We stay at the forefront of drug and alcohol driving laws in California to ensure our clients receive maximum compensation for their injuries and damages.