Car Crash Study Finds Drugs Are Prevalent

Over half of car crash victims had drugs in system
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 14, 2022 2:55 PM CST
Car Crash Study: 54% of Injured Drivers Had Drugs in System
This long exposure photo shows traffic driving on Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia, Wednesday, May 25, 2022.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

A large study by US highway safety regulators found that more than half the people injured or killed in traffic crashes had one or more drugs, or alcohol, in their bloodstreams. Also, just over 54% of injured drivers had drugs or alcohol in their systems, with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, the most prevalent, followed by alcohol, the study published Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found. Although the study authors say the results can’t be used to gauge drug use on the roads nationwide, they say the high number of drivers, passengers, and other road users with drugs in their systems is concerning.

Acting NHTSA Administrator Ann Carlson said the study found that nearly 20% of the drivers tested had blood-alcohol levels of 0.08% or higher, exceeding the legal limit in every state. "We also are concerned that nearly 20% of road users tested positive for two or more drugs, including alcohol," she said. "The use of multiple substances at once can magnify the impairing effects of each drug." The study of blood tests taken at seven level-one trauma centers and four medical examiners' offices across the country comes at a critical time on US roadways, reports the AP.

Traffic deaths have risen dramatically since the start of the pandemic to what officials describe as crisis levels. And more states are legalizing recreational use of marijuana with research just starting about the impact on traffic safety. The study, which took blood-test data from 7,279 road users, also found that more than half of injured pedestrians and just over 43% of injured bicyclists had a drug in their bloodstreams. Of the total number of patients, 25.1% tested positive for THC, 23.1% for alcohol, 10.8% for stimulants, and 9.3% for opioids, according to the study.

story continues below

The numbers can't be used to show drug use on the roads nationwide because the hospitals were not picked to represent the entire country, said Amy Berning, a NHTSA research psychologist and one of the study authors. The study also can't be used to show a correlation between increasing numbers of highway deaths and drug use, although she said detecting such a high percentage of use with a large sample size is "a concern for NHTSA." Researchers counted any level of drugs in blood samples and did not measure whether people were impaired, Berning said. The presence of THC in so many patients could be because it can stay in a bloodstream longer than alcohol or other drugs, Berning noted.

(More drunk driving stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.