Federal testing shows a rise in the use of drugs - whether legal or illegal - by motorists.
The increase in availability of “medical” marijuana only underscores the nation’s tolerance for drug use, whether for pharmaceutical or recreational applications. But that worries federal safety regulators who are finding drugs involved in a growing number of accidents – especially fatal ones.
Just five years ago, a study of 15,363 drivers fatally injured in a traffic accident found 24.1%, or 3,710, had at least one drug in their system that could impact their behavior behind the wheel – whether marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or a variety of other narcotics, stimulants, depressants, steroids and hallucinogens.
Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports, the percentage had risen to 29%. Of the 13,801 drivers tested, 3,952 indicated positive for drug use.
The results don’t specifically point to the increased use of recreational drugs. Even over-the-counter anti-histamines can be dangerous – prescription and over-the-counter medicines were included in the testing.
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And NHTSA officials caution that the results of their findings could be misleading. Also, some states are more lax about testing for drug use after a fatal accident. Maine, for example, authorized tests in none of the 2009 fatal accidents, while all drivers killed behind the wheel were tested for drugs in Hawaii, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.