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Drugs Outpacing Alcohol as Top Cause of Car Accidents

Written by Tom Crosley
Oct 17, 2019 Catastrophic Personal Injury, Personal Injury, Vehicle Wrecks
  1. 1. Changing Attitudes Toward Marijuana Come With Unexpected Costs
  2. 2. Increased Opioid Use Fuels Rising Rates of Drugged Driving
  3. 3. How Can an Attorney Help If I’ve Been Injured by a Drugged Driver?
  4. 4. Crosley Law: Fighting for San Antonio Drugged Driving Accident Victims

In the 1980s and 1990s, groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) fought hard to spread awareness about the devastating injuries and deaths caused by drunk driving. Thanks in part to these efforts, drunk driving deaths dropped by 48% nationwide between 1982 and 2019. However, a similar battle against drugged driving is just beginning.

In 2018, the Governors Highway Safety Association reported it had analyzed data from 2016 and found that 44 percent of fatally injured drivers tested positive for intoxicating drugs — up from only 29 percent a decade prior. And in Texas, the number of suspected impaired driving cases that prompted drug tests jumped from 2,000 in 2014 to 5,000 in 2018.

Dr. Peter Stout, president and CEO of the Houston Forensic Science Center, said his staff sees a clear pattern in the results from those tests. “[More are] negative for alcohol, and more and more are positive for drugs,” Stout told KPRC Houston.

Read on to learn more about what’s fueling this trend and find out what you can do if you’ve been injured in a car wreck caused by drugged driving.

Changing Attitudes Toward Marijuana Come With Unexpected Costs

One factor fueling the surge in drugged driving rates is the steady sea change in both marijuana laws and public attitudes toward marijuana (also known as cannabis). Twenty-six states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana for recreational use; most of those states adopted their new cannabis laws within the past few years. And even though Texas doesn’t allow for the recreational purchase or consumption of marijuana, nearby states like Colorado and Nevada do, which means marijuana is more accessible than ever for Texans.

Among many drivers, marijuana has an increasingly benign reputation. According to survey results published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in 2019, almost 70 percent of Americans think a person isn’t likely to get arrested for driving while intoxicated on marijuana. And 7 percent of those surveyed said they approved of driving after recently using marijuana — much higher than the approval rates for other behaviors like drunk driving (1.6 percent) and drowsy driving (1.7 percent).

“To prove someone was driving under the influence of drugs, you’ll need expert witnesses who can interpret drug test results and explain how the drug played a role in the wreck.”

These lax attitudes toward driving while high clash with years of traffic safety data that shows that people who drive after smoking marijuana are twice as likely to get involved in a car crash.

“Marijuana can significantly alter reaction times and impair a driver’s judgment,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Yet many drivers don’t consider marijuana-impaired driving as risky as other behaviors like driving drunk or talking on the phone while driving.”

Increased Opioid Use Fuels Rising Rates of Drugged Driving

Marijuana isn’t the only drug that’s causing serious trouble on our roadways. Experts agree that the nation’s opioid use epidemic — which has caused death rates from opioid overdose rates to increase more than fivefold since 1999 — is also translating to more drug-intoxicated drivers on the road.

Unfortunately, police and crime labs are struggling to come up with reliable methods to test drivers quickly for intoxication by illegal and prescription drugs. Not only are there hundreds of possible intoxicating drugs that a driver could use, but about half of drivers who test positive for drugs have two or more drugs in their system, according to data from AAA.

Even establishing how much of a drug has to show up in a test to prove intoxication is difficult since drugged driving hasn’t been studied nearly as much as drunk driving.

“With alcohol, we have 30 years of research looking at the relationship between how much alcohol is in a person’s blood and the odds they will cause a traffic crash,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s traffic safety director. “For drugs, that relationship is not known.”

How Can an Attorney Help If I’ve Been Injured by a Drugged Driver?

The fact that drugged driving is harder to identify than drunk driving makes drugged driving injury claims more complicated. To prove someone was driving under the influence of drugs, you’ll need expert witnesses who can interpret drug test results and explain how the drug played a role in the wreck. The best way to get access to these experts is to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer who knows how to handle drugged driving cases.

At Crosley Law, we’ve successfully handled many drugged driving cases. In several of these cases, the police investigation never discovered the presence of drug abuse, and the drug-related causes of the wreck only came to light after a detailed investigation by our team.

To make sure any drug abuse that caused you harm gets uncovered, you should contact Crosley Law right away if you’ve been involved in a car crash and suspect that your injuries were caused by a drugged or drunk driver in San Antonio.

RELATED BLOG ARTICLE: The Drugged Driving Epidemic: How Can You Protect Yourself?

Crosley Law: Fighting for San Antonio Drugged Driving Accident Victims

At Crosley Law, we apply cutting-edge technology and techniques to investigate and develop our clients’ personal injury claims. If a drugged driver injured you or someone you love, please contact us to schedule your free, no-risk consultation. You can either complete our simple online form or call us at 210-LAW-3000 | 210-529-3000 to make your appointment today


AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. (2019, June 19). Americans don’t think they’ll get arrested for driving high [press release]. Retrieved from https://readingberks.aaa.com/sites/default/files/news_room/2019-TSCI-News-Release.pdf

Arnold, R. (2019, February 14). Increased ‘drugged driving’ prompts new needs at Houston Crime Lab. Click2Houston. Retrieved from https://www.click2houston.com/news/increased-drugged-driving-prompts-new-needs-at-houston-crime-lab

Bergal, J. (2018, May 31). Drugged driving deaths spike with spread of legal marijuana, opioid abuse. Stateline. Retrieved from https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/05/31/drugged-driving-deaths-spike-with-spread-of-legal-marijuana-opioid-abuse

Drunk driving fatality statistics. (n.d.). Responsibility.org. Retrieved from https://www.responsibility.org/alcohol-statistics/drunk-driving-statistics/drunk-driving-fatality-statistics/

Opioid overdose crisis. (2019, January). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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