Drinking or consuming drugs when driving account for many accidents

That line we hear from teens and young adults about being safe drivers when they’ve been smoking marijuana is just that: A line of pure bovine by-product. And there’s good new scientific evidence for calling bull by-product just what it is.

The call came in at O’Dark Thirty and I slept through it. So, I responded as soon as I could see to hit the REDIAL button.

Dad is concerned that Junior is abusing alcohol and marijuana and doesn’t know how to proceed. While I wasn’t sure how he found my name and number, I pretty much knew the answers I would be getting to a few questions. Junior is an especially bright, rising senior at a Top 50 university, preparing for his med school admissions test, 21 years old. No, he hasn’t won the lottery, he’s not independently wealthy, and he’s not a trust-fund baby.

My answer: “Exercise the POWER OF THE PURSE STRINGS. The car is in your name. If he thinks he can get away with drinking, smoking marijuana and driving, he’s putting your and your family’s financial wellbeing at risk – especially if he has an accident and injures or kills someone. Oh, and he just might kill himself.”

Go ahead drink and driveIn the July 2011 edition of the Journal of Studies of Alcohol and Drugs, Eduardo Romano, Ph.D. and Robert B. Voas, Ph.D. of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation analyzed data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) and found that approximately 25% of US drivers who died in a crash tested positive for drugs. Marijuana and stimulants, including cocaine and amphetamines, each accounted for about 23% of the positive tests.

While it is unclear whether or not drugs were to blame for the crashes, the 2007 National Roadside Survey found that 16% of nighttime weekend drivers tested positive for illegal drugs and the fact that drug use was almost twice as high among drivers in fatal crashes suggests that drugs do contribute to road deaths.

The researchers examined data from 1998 to 2009 for 44,000 fatally injured drivers involved in single-vehicle crashes and in which drivers were tested for drugs other than alcohol and had a known result. About 25% of drivers tested positive for drugs. Cannabinoids (marijuana and marijuana –related drugs) and stimulants (amphetamines and cocaine) each contributed to about 23% of the drug-positive results (6% among all fatally injured single-vehicle drivers). More than cannabinoids, stimulants were found to be associated with the four types of crashes under the study: speeding, failure to obey/yield, inattention, and seatbelt non-use. Marijuana was strongly linked only to speeding and seatbelt non-use.

Ultimately, however, alcohol is still the biggest roadway danger. Other drugs appear to be key only when drivers have not been drinking and drugging. That is, when someone drinks and uses drugs, the alcohol is the main reason for impaired – sometimes fatal – driving.

“Alcohol is still the largest contributor to fatal crashes,” reports Romano.

“The suspicion is there, because when you look at drivers who’ve been in fatal crashes, the percentage using drugs is a good deal higher,” said co-author Voas, For parents, teens and young adults, the answer is simple: “Don’t drink or don’t consume drugs when you’re going to drive,” said Romano, the lead author on the study.

And I remind parents whose kids don’t believe scientific research applies to them “You have the Power of the Purse Strings. Exercise it. It’s one helluvalot cheaper that losing home and everything you’ve ever worked for if Junior kills someone in your car. And is a infinitely better than spending a lifetime of grief and self-recrimination because you didn’t and he killed himself.”

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