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Illinois deaths from drugged driving may outpace drunk driving

Marijuana may have more legally acceptable uses in the U.S. than any time in the past, but the increasing popularity of relaxed marijuana laws concerns traffic safety officials. A new study, based in part on Illinois traffic statistics, warns that drugged driving deaths are on the rise.

Consumer awareness groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving have fought long and hard to prevent accidents related to alcohol use. Now, MADD officials are concerned about the prevalence of accidents involving intoxicated drivers who use marijuana. According to a Columbia University study, MADD and all Cook County drivers have a reason to be worried.

Columbia researchers dug in to traffic death statistics in half a dozen states, covering 1999 to 2010. The states were singled out because each regularly conducted chemical tests on drivers following fatalities. Over 23,500 driver deaths were examined.

The study noted the number of deadly accidents involving alcohol remained consistent, while fatalities linked with drug use soared. Alcohol-related traffic deaths made up about 40 percent of total fatalities throughout the study period. During the same time, fatal accidents linked to drugs climbed from 16 percent to 28 percent, with 12 percent of the 2010 deaths connected to marijuana use.

Researchers believe the near future – five or six years from now – will include more motor vehicle fatalities involving drugs than alcohol. Safety analysts also fear more drivers will combine the use of drugs and alcohol, making the risk to lives even greater than previously. Alcohol impaired drivers are 13 times more likely to die in car accidents than sober drivers, but the death risk for drivers who mix substances is 28 times greater than an unimpaired driver.

A Chicago driver impaired by illegal or prescription drugs may face criminal or civil charges. Juries deciding whether injured victims should be compensated view driver intoxication, in any form, as a reckless or negligent act.

Source:, "Drugged Driving: Study Finds That Fatal Car Crashes Involving Marijuana Use Have Tripled" Leah Barkoukis, Feb. 09, 2014

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