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Troubling increase in fatal car accidents and marijuana

As the marijuana legalization movement gains momentum and states like Hawaii consider following Colorado and Washington's lead, a growing problem will need to be addressed: that of drugged driving caused by marijuana use. A recent study has found that the number of fatal car accidents involving drugged drivers went from 16 percent in 1999 to 28 percent by 2010.

Evidence of marijuana use tripled, from 4 percent to 12 percent. The study looked at 23,500 fatal car accidents that occurred in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and West Virginia. These states perform blood tests on fatal car accident victims, which allowed researchers to determine which drugs were present in the deceased drivers.

A co-author of the study warned that if this trend continues, which it is likely to do as more states move to legalize marijuana, in a few years "non-alcohol drugs will overtake alcohol to become the most common substance involved in deaths related to impaired driving."

Given the long battle to reduce the number of alcohol related traffic fatalities, the prospect of a new threat, which many people fail to even see as a threat, is worrying. The drug use was not influenced by any increase in alcohol usage, as that remained flat at 40 percent of fatal accidents.

While some in Hawaii are eager to legalize marijuana use, there remain many real concerns. The lack of an effective and accurate test that is similar to an alcohol breath test is one problem and the necessity to educate people of the dangers of marijuana use and driving means Hawaii should very carefully consider any legalization program.

Source: WTVG-13, "Fatal car crashes involving pot use have tripled in U.S.," Dennis Thompson, February 4, 2014

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