Public Health

Fatal Car Wrecks Increasingly Involve Drivers On Drugs

It may be time to update a well-worn auto safety slogan to "friends don't let friends drive buzzed."

Drugs are increasingly common in the blood of drivers killed in car accidents, according to data just crunched by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Last year, a third of fatally injured drivers whose test results were available for a government database turned out to have drugs in their system. As a proportion of automobile fatalities, the 3,952 deaths for drivers with positive test results for drugs in 2009 was up 3 percentage points from those in 2008. Since 2005, that proportion is up 5 percentage points from 28 percent.

In a statement, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said the "report provides a warning signal that too many Americans are driving after having taken drugs, not realizing the potential for putting themselves and others on the highway at risk."

Narcotics, depressants, marijuana and steroids were among the drugs found. Now, the government says the tests results, when available, only document that drugs were present — not that the driver was impaired or that an accident was caused by drug use.

Also, alcohol, blamed for a third of crash fatalities in 2008, was excluded. So were nicotine, aspirin and drugs given to accident victims after crashing.

One other caveat: Almost a third of the nearly 22,000 drivers killed in crashes  weren't tested for drugs. And more than 1,700 tested drivers' results were unknown.

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