With the majority of DUI research geared toward alcohol use, researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health sought to assess the association of drugged driving with the risk of a fatal accident.
University researchers analyzed government data from 2007 and compared data on fatal crashes with roadside surveys of alcohol and drug use during the same time period. They found that drivers who tested positive for drugs were three times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than those who tested negative. Of the drugs tested, depressants were associated with the highest risk of a deadly accident. Runner ups were stimulants, narcotics and marijuana.
The study, which was published in the Journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, found that 31.9 percent of the drivers involved in fatal car crashes (cases) and 13.7 percent of the drivers interviewed at the roadside survey (controls) tested positive for at least one non-alcohol drug.
In addition, elevated blood alcohol levels were found in 57 percent of the cases and 8.8 percent of the controls. 20.5 percent of the cases tested positive for alcohol and one or more drugs. This accounts for about one-fifth of the cases, whereas only 2.2 percent of controls tested positive for alcohol and one or more drugs.
Compared to drivers who were tested negative for drugs and alcohol, those who tested positive for alcohol, drugs, or both were at a substantially higher risk of being involved in a fatal accident. Those who tested positive for alcohol alone were thirteen times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident. Those who tested positive for drugs were twice as likely. Those who tested positive for both alcohol and drugs were a whopping 23 times more likely.
Professor of Epidemiology and director of the Center for Inquiry Epidemiology and prevention Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, who also led the research, warns that the findings should not be strictly interpreted. He notes that, although someone may test positive for drugs, alcohol, or both, levels of impairment as well as individual tolerances will inevitably differ.
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