NHTSA: Drugs Not Big Danger on the Road

NHTSA Accident Study Finds Drugs Not Big Danger on the Road, the Main Danger is Alcohol. Marijuana By Itself Not an Apparent Driving Hazard

Dr. Dale Gieringer, California NORML (415) 563-5858.

A newly released National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study, DOT-HS-808-065, "Incidence of Drug Use in Fatally Injured Drivers", indicates that alcohol is by far the leading cause of drug-related traffic accidents, while marijuana poses negligible danger except when combined with alcohol.

The study, the most comprehensive drug accident survey to date, is dated October 1992, but is only now being released. A researcher familiar with the project says this is because it contradicts the government's official anti-drug line that illicit drugs are a major public safety hazard.

The study investigated blood samples from 1882 drivers killed in car, truck and motorcycle accidents in seven states during 1990 - 91. Alcohol was found in 51.5% of the specimens. Just 17.8% showed traces of other drugs; marijuana was a distant second to alcohol at 6.7%, followed by cocaine (5.3%), benzodiazepine tranquillizers (2.9%) and amphetamine (1.9%). Two-thirds of marijuana- and other-drug-using drivers were also positive for alcohol.

The report concluded that alcohol was by far the "dominant problem" in drug-related accidents. A responsibility analysis showed that alcohol-using drivers were conspicuously culpable in fatal accidents, especially at high blood concentrations or in combination with other drugs, including marijuana. However, those who used marijuana alone were found to be if anything less culpable than non-drug-users. The report concluded, "there was no indication that marijuana by itself was a cause of fatal accidents."

Although California NORML's "Health Tips for Marijuana Smokers," by California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer, lists accidents and respiratory disease due to smoking as the two leading health hazards of marijuana, these findings are consistent with other studies, which have generally found that marijuana is rarely involved in driving accidents except when combined with alcohol.

The NHTSA report, "The Incidence and Role of Drugs in Fatally Injured Drivers," by K.W. Terhune, et al. of the Calspan Corp. Accident Research Group in Buffalo, NY (Report # DOT-HS-808-065) is available from the National Technical Information Service, Springfield VA 22161.