Study: More marijuana-positive drivers involved in fatal car accidents in Colorado

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Colorado license plate over marijuana

AURORA, Colo. — A study by the University of Colorado School of Medicine shows the proportion of marijuana-positive drivers involved in fatal vehicle accidents in Colorado has increased dramatically since the commercialization of medical marijuana in the middle of 2009, researchers announced Thursday.

Using data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System from 1994 to 2011, researchers looked at fatal car accidents in Colorado and the 34 states that didn’t have medical marijuana laws.

They found fatal car crashes in Colorado with at least one driver who tested positive for marijuana was 4.5 percent in the first six months of 1994. In the last six months of 2011, that percentage had jumped to 10 percent. The researchers found no major changes over the same time in the proportion of drivers in fatal crashes in which drivers were alcohol-impaired.

Lead study author Stacy Salomonsen-Sautel said the study raises concerns and shows a need for better education and prevention programs to curb impaired driving.


  • Truth Crusader

    Were those drivers that had marijuana in their system under the influence of alcohol as well? Article doesn’t say.
    Were the drivers high at the time of the accident? Or was the marijuana in their system residual from past usage?

    Typical media.

  • Mark Gommesen

    The fact that cannabinol was detected in a driver’s blood does not mean he was under the influence at the time of the crash, let alone that marijuana caused the crash. “It is possible for a driver to test positive for cannabinol in the blood up to 1 week after use,” the researchers note. “Thus, the prevalence of nonalcohol drugs reported in this study should be interpreted as an indicator of drug use, not necessarily a measurement of drug impairment.”

    It is important to note the rate of overall rate marijuana consumption did not triple between 1999 to 2010, but the prevalence of cannabinol in fatally injured divers has nearly thripled? Why? The number of Americans using marijuana in 1999 was 19 million. The number of people using marijuana in 2010 was about 21.5 million. An increase of 11% (National Survey on Drug Use and Health; National Household Survey on Drug Abuse; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Department of Health and Human Services). Unless there is some inexplicable reason that marijuana users suddenly began to behave in unsafe matter, there is a problem with these results. One might even conclude there is little correalation between rate of increase the number of people using marijuana and the number of fatal crashes where cannabinol was detected.
    Only three of the six states included in the study (which were chosen because they routinely do drug testing on drivers killed in crashes) have medical marijuana laws: California, Hawaii, and Rhode Island.
    Traffic fatalities fell by more than 20% nationwide during the study period, even as “medical marijuana sales expanded.” Between enactment of its medical marijuana law in 1996 and 2010, California saw a 31% drop in traffic fatalities. The number of traffic fatalities also fell in Hawaii and Rhode Island after they legalized medical marijuana—by 14% and 21%, respectively.

    A study published last year by the Journal of Law & Economics found that adoption of medical marijuana laws is associated with a decline in traffic fatalities, possibly because people in those states are substituting marijuana for alcohol, which has a more dramatic impact on driving ability. Briggs mentions that study in the 17th paragraph of his article.

    I would suggest that marijuana was “increasing detected” was due to a change in detection methods,detection methods more frequently applied or a change reporting of results rather than change in behavioral patterns. This study has major flaw in study that the methodology for detecting cannabinol may not have been consistent for the life of study.remain constant for all locations for the entire period of the study.

  • Beth Gonnaget

    this is also not stating that some of the “positive” results (no matter how far past the date of consumption they may have been) were more importantly not the cause of the accident, but in fact innocent victims of other people’s recklessness. dont trust the media to interpret statistics when there’s internet click based ad dollars at stake!

  • KAG505

    The problem with marijuana supporters is that they absolutely refuse to acknowledge that there may be a problem with consumption of marijuana and disasterous results. One young man jumped out a window in Denver a couple of months ago and someone posted on the TV website that the overdose of the marijuana had nothing to do with the death, that he died from high speed contact with the ground. But studies that show that there is a problem with driving while stoned are always flawed and put together by people who dont know what they are talking about, and never good enough. But here are the results of one. (But the results will be dismissed as the deaths were not caused by the marijuana, they were caused by injuries sustained in the wreck. Marijuana is harmless, dont ya know………)
    The Involvement of Marijuana
    in California Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes 1998 -2008
    A total of 1240 persons were killed in the last five years in fatal motor vehicle crashes involving Marijuana. 230 were killed in 2008. Use has increase steadily in the last ten years and is now at 5.5% in fatal passenger vehicle crashes. The use in single vehicle fatal crashes where most drivers are tested shows an involvement rate of 8.3%.
    The largest increases occurred in the 5 years following the establishment of the Medical Marijuana Program in January 2004. For the five years following legalization there were 1240 fatalities in fatal crashes, compared to the 631 fatalities for the five years prior, for an increase of almost 100%. In 2008 there were 8 counties where more than 16% of the drivers in
    fatal crashes tested positive for Marijuana. Five of the 8 counties had rates over 20%
    Based on this experience, a use rate of 16% to 20% is very likely. A rate increase to only 16%, would result in 670 fatalities, and at 20% we would have about 840 fatalities annually. The 20% level would be more than triple the present level of 230 fatalities in 2008. At these levels, Marijuana would rival alcohol at 17.9%, as the top cause of traffic fatalities.

    • Truth Crusader

      I guess KAG505 didn’t ever read the part where marijuana can be in your system for weeks after use. Your cool little story filled with statistics only says they tested positive, not high at the time of the accident.

    • Justin Hale

      The dude didn’t “jump out the window,he fell off a balcony. How many times do we hear about drunk frat boys falling out windows?? All I know is that I have been around long time daily users of MerryWanna and driven thousands of miles up and down the west coast without any problems…believe what you want.

    • Kevin Hunt

      Colorado Historical Fatal Crash Trends – Updated 2/8/2014
      Colorado fatal crashes 2002: 677
      Colorado fatal crashes 2004: 596
      (dispensaries open in 2009)
      Colorado fatal crashes 2009: 438
      Colorado fatal crashes 2012: 433
      (Amendment 64 passes)
      Colorado fatal Crashes 2013: 422
      * Source of Data: Colorado DOT & “As Reported” to NHTSA by FARS

    • Dale Gross

      Trust the news media to report a news story where non-critical thinkers will likely infer that the sky is falling down. Nowhere does it say that being high on marijuana caused even one accident. Case closed.

  • Chas Holman

    Uhhgh Yet at the same time, traffic FATALITIES are DOWN in Colorado by double digits since they enacted medical marijuana. As are alcohol sales, teen suicides and prescription drug deaths.

    WHY when they say ‘people test positive for marijuana in fatalities more frequently’ Do they NOT mention BUT our traffic fatalities are down considerably over most all other ‘non medical states’.

    Statistics are a funny thing, using only ‘half the story’ is nothing more than a cry for attention by propagandists,.

    • Justin Hale

      Headlines,Headlines….getting clicks,,,,our attention is what it’s about. In my younger daze it was Television commercials,Commercial Radio ,putting on Shows to sell their products. Now it is websites designed to draw traffic,that is why they put on these “shows”.

  • Steve Cooper

    Wonderful thing about statistics is they can say whatever you want them too. While every DUI fatality is a tragedy where is the concern for the millions having their lives destroyed because of outdated laws and policies towards a plant. They say Colorado is the great experiment but they are wrong. The CSA and the DEA were the experiment and after four decades it is a failure.

  • Brad Forrester

    In 2002, there were 743 traffic fatalities, or 2.035 per day. In 2010, there were 450 traffic fatalities, or 1.232 per day (the lowest number in decades). In 2014, yep, that’s this year folks, there have been 122 traffic fatalities so far and that’s 1.15 per day. Colorado is on a pace to have just 420 (LOL) traffic fatalities in 2014, or a 12.2% DECREASE from 2013! Any way you do the math fatalities are falling BECAUSE MORE PEOPLE ARE CHOOSING CANNABIS INSTEAD OF ALCOHOL! The reason some hokey study shows more cannabis-positive drivers are involved in traffic fatalities is because they now test specifically for cannabis in fatal accidents.

  • Anonymous

    NO NO NO FOX NEWS! You cannot alter facts to make your story the way YOU want it! Just because someone test positive does NOT mean they were “high” at the time of the accident! Lets stop the hypocrisy.

  • Paul Pot

    So how is it that road fatalities go down in states with medical cannabis?
    Presence is not proof of cause.

  • Buzzby Smith

    The annual number of traffic fatalities has gone down since medical marijuana was legalized. In fact, the states with medical marijuana have seen a 9% drop in traffic fatalities. I would expect that any cross-section of adults in Colorado would show a 10% positive result for consuming cannabis some time within the last month, making the 10% found in the fatal crashes a moot point. Anyone switching from alcohol to cannabis as their drug-of-choice improves highway safety because being high makes you cautious, while being drunk makes you think you’re a Formula 1 driver.

  • Charles

    Typical news BS. Scum bags. You’re not fooling anyone with these bogus one sided stories.

  • Michael rittenhouse rigby

    Okay,let`s use THEIR logic.Take a random number of individuals straight from their work station.Test them for cannabis……..right.They (let`s say % 5.5) are stoned right now.And nothing bad is happening.) Case dismissed

  • Jimmy Limo

    “fatal car crashes in Colorado with at least one driver who tested positive for marijuana”… those poor stoned drivers, cruising slowly and carefully, cut down in the prime of life by some reckless, speeding, DRUNK driver, no doubt ! Statistically, stoned drivers are 5-6 times SAFER than DRUNK drivers !

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