The decriminalization of marijuana is a growing trend nationwide. In Washington and Colorado, marijuana has been legalized, while in almost half the states—including Connecticut—it may be used legally only for medical purposes. However, there may be a darker side to these trends: a recent study shows that the number of marijuana-related automobile fatalities has risen sharply in the last decade. The data suggest that drugged driving may be an increasingly common cause of car accidents.
According to a report by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, the presence of non-alcohol drugs in the systems of drivers involved in fatal car crashes has been on the rise and has tripled in the last decade. Using data from the states that routinely test the blood of drivers involved in fatal car accidents, the study reported that in 1999, 4.2 percent of drivers who were killed in automobile crashes tested positive for marijuana; in 2010, that number increased to 12.2 percent. The major increase was shown across all ages and in both genders.
The study also showed that alcohol use was more prevalent than drug use in drivers involved in fatal crashes, but that percentage has stayed relatively stable. The presence of all non-alcohol drugs increased from 16.6 percent in 1999 to 28.3 percent in 2010. This increase may be attributable to the decriminalization of marijuana as well as the national opioid use epidemic. While all states have laws prohibiting impaired driving, the national trend toward permitting at least limited marijuana use may be a factor in the increased number of drugged-driving incidents.