Study: Drugs Linked to 1 in 5 Fatal Car Crashes

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Of the 21,798 drivers were killed on the road in the United States in 2009, about 18 percent of them had drugs in their system at the time of death, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says in a new report released Tuesday.

The NHTSA reports that the percentage of road fatalities linked to drug involvement has steadily risen since 2005 from 13 percent.

The NHTSA was only able to obtain test results for about two-thirds of all killed drivers, according to the release. Also, the report does not make clear whether the victims were impaired by having drugs in their system or that their drug use caused the crashes.

The types of drugs recorded in tests include narcotics, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens, cannabinoids, phencyclidines (PCPs), anabolic steroids, and inhalants. The results include both illicit drugs, as well as legally prescribed drugs and over-the-counter medicines.

"Every driver on the road has a personal responsibility to operate his or her vehicle with full and uncompromised attention on the driving task," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland in a NHTSA press release. "Today's 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."

This study is part of a NHTSA effort to show whether drug consumption can be linked directly to causing car crashes, as there is already lots of evidence-empirical and observational- linking alcohol consumption and car wrecks. Currently, not all states test for drug consumption following fatal accidents.

"While it's clear that science and state policies regarding drugs and driving are evolving, one fact is indisputable: It doesn't matter if its drugs or alcohol, if you're impaired, don't drive," Strickland said.