Fatal drugged driving accidents a growing threat to California motorists

California has made significant strides in reducing drunk driving; in the last decade, alcohol-related fatalities have fallen 33 percent, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. Unfortunately, the state has not made similar progress against car accidents involving drugged driving. In fact, data suggests accidents involving marijuana and other substances are increasingly likely to affect innocent drivers in San Rafael.

Dangerous driving on the rise

A study from Columbia University recently called this risk to attention. Researchers collected fatal car accident data from six states, including California, and reviewed toxicology tests performed on more than 23,000 deceased drivers within an hour of the accident. According to CBS Seattle, the study found that:

  • In 1999, drugged driving contributed to just 16 percent of fatal car accidents.
  • By 2010, drugged driving played a role in 28 percent, or over one-quarter, of fatal accidents.
  • Marijuana was the most commonly involved drug, playing a role in over one-third of 2010 drugged driving accidents.
  • From 1999 to 2010, the proportion of marijuana-related accidents tripled, from 4 percent to 12 percent.

Of course, drugged driving still is less of a threat than drunk driving, which caused about 40 percent of all traffic fatalities reviewed in the study. Still, the gradual increase in deadly accidents involving drugged driving is alarming.

Just as disturbingly, data suggests this problem is much more prevalent in California. In 2013, NBC Bay Area reported that California drugged driving fatalities had increased a shocking 39.3 percent over the last decade. Worse, the majority of drivers who caused injuries or deaths while using drugs were not convicted of DUI.

Challenges of detection

Reporting and detection of drugged driving remains an issue. Until the start of 2014, California did not even code drugged and drunk driving separately, making it difficult for authorities to track the scale of the problem, according to NBC Bay Area.

Identifying drugged drivers can be more challenging for authorities than detecting alcohol-impaired drivers. There is no quick and simple test, such as a Breathalyzer, that can determine how impaired a driver is. Authorities often must undergo special training and judge impairment based on a driver's field sobriety test performance. This can make detection and conviction difficult.

Unfortunately, public perceptions about driving while on drugs may play into the issue. While many drivers recognize that drunk driving is dangerous, they may think it is harmless to drive after using substances such as marijuana.

According to CBS Seattle, research shows that alcohol increases fatal crash risk 13 times, which is much more than many other substances increase crash risk. However, drugged driving does enhance accident risk, and crashes are even more likely when drivers mix substances. For instance, drivers who have used both alcohol and marijuana are 24 times more likely to experience a fatal accident.

Sadly, until driver perceptions change or law enforcement efforts become more effective, many California drivers may be harmed by these accidents. If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident involving a driver who was under the influence of any substance, please consider speaking to an attorney about pursuing compensation.