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Over Half of Motorists Killed in Crashes Consumed Alcohol or Drugs

A study of fatal car accidents in 14 different states shows that over 50% of the drivers who lose their lives in such accidents have consumed alcohol or ingested drugs. The drugs measured included marijuana, other unlawful drugs, and prescription medications, some of which are subject to abuse or have the effect of impairing driving.

The statistics were compiled and examined by researchers working for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They utilized toxicology tests conducted on the blood of the deceased drivers. This raw data was insufficient to determine what the role of many of the drugs might have been in causing or contributing to causing the accidents. Nor could it easily be used to assess whether the level of illicit drug use or prescription medication found in the bloodstream had been high enough to amount to causing legal impairment.

The researchers looked at blood tests conducted on a total of 20,150 drivers who died in car accidents taking place from 2005 to 2009. The results indicated that at least 57 percent of them had at least one drug in their blood. Around 20% of them had ingested multiple drugs. Alcohol was used by the largest number of the deceased drivers, with marijuana coming in second, and various stimulant drugs, including assorted amphetamines and Adderall, coming in behind. The researchers cautioned that some drugs, including marijuana, can show up in the blood days or even week after use.

Nighttime and weekend drivers killed in an accident were more likely to have used alcohol or drugs than those driving during the workweek. The research study also revealed that there was a significant gender gap as to the use of drugs and alcohol behind the wheel, with fewer than 50 percent of the deceased female motorists having indulged, compared to a significantly higher 60 percent among male drivers.

Federal authorities say that two years ago, a time period from which relatively complete data is now available, over 10,000 deaths occurred in traffic accidents which involved a motorist who was intoxicated by having a minimum of 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood. This meant that around a third of all fatal traffic accidents involved an alcohol impaired motorist. The figure may well be higher, however, as the study could not measure the number of intoxicated drivers who survived fatal accidents in which only other innocent people died as a result of their negligence.

In many crashes caused by drivers who used drugs or consumed alcohol, passengers in their own or another car may be injured or killed along with other drivers, pedestrians, and bicycle riders. Such injuries and deaths frequently lead to wrongful death lawsuits by victims’ families and personal injury claims by surviving injured victims.

The role of the used of many prescription medications in causing fatal traffic accidents is still somewhat disputed, although there appears to be a definite relationship between the use of anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines and fatal crashes.