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Study: Drugged Drivers Now Cause More Traffic Deaths Than Drunk Drivers

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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A new study finds drivers killed in crashes in 2015 were more likely to be under the influence of drugs than alcohol, the first recorded time drug use was responsible for more traffic fatalities than drunk driving.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released a report Wednesday showing 43 percent of drivers tested in fatal crashes around the country had used a legal or illegal drug, compared to 37 percent who tested above the legal limit.

The report analyzed state-level data reported to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and included any chemical substance that impairs driving. This included illegal drugs, prescription medications, and over-the-counter medicines. Of all drivers involved in fatal crashes who tested positive for drugs, 36.5 percent had used marijuana, followed by amphetamines at 9.3 percent, the study said.

Jim Hedlund, a former NHTSA official who wrote the report, told Reuters that many drivers don’t have a full appreciation of the affects of drug use on driving ability and reaction time.

“People generally should get educated that drugs of all sorts can impair your driving ability,” he said. “If you’re on a drug that does so, you shouldn’t be driving.”

According to Hedlund, drug intoxication has caused a rising share of traffic deaths since 2005 when alcohol was detected in 41 percent of cases and drugs in 28 percent. The increase in drugged driving deaths coincides with the national opioid epidemic, but Hedlund said he couldn’t confirm a direct link between the two phenomena.

The report showed that traffic fatalities caused by drug drivers rose in the wake of marijuana legalization for recreational or medicinal use. Marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado increased 48 percent after the state legalized recreational use of the drug, according to the study.

“They think they’re safe, but marijuana affects things like reaction time, which is important when you’re driving,” Hedlund said Wednesday during an interview with “The Today Show.”

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Will Racke