The Involvement of Marijuana Drivers in
Illinois Fatal Motor Vehicle Crashes
Al Crancer, B.S., M.A.
For Educating Voices, www.educatingvoices.org
With no legal marijuana available to the driving public in Illinois in 2014, about 13% of the fatalities involved marijuana high drivers resulting in the death of more than 100 persons. With full implementation of the Medical Marijuana program it is expected that the percentage in Illinois will rise from 12.6% to 15.6% and increase the yearly number to about 133 fatalities, 26 more than the present level.
About 56% of the Marijuana drivers were speeding compared to only 39% of drivers with no alcohol or drugs. Marijuana drivers were about 5 years younger than DUI drivers and 40% were also DUI. Further, marijuana is now the No.1 class of drugs found in the blood of fatal drivers in Illinois.
Driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) is a serious highway safety issue, and the number of persons who die annually in these crashes may be greatly underrepresented. Quantifying those affected by drugs—and, more specifically, by what classes of drugs—remains problematic, even in terms of crash fatalities. For instance, the ability to determine accurate on-scene blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) often trumps the delayed receipt of drug results collected by far more cumbersome, time-consuming, and expensive means.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), only 63 percent (13,801) of the 21,798 drivers killed in U.S. traffic crashes in 2009 were tested for “drug involvement,” which neither implies impairment nor indicates crash cause. 1 The 3,952 fatally injured drivers who actually tested positive for the presence of drugs other than alcohol represented 18 percent of all of those fatalities tested in 2009 (13,801), as well as 33 percent (3,952) of those 12,055 with known drug test results. 2 The proportion of drivers testing positive for drugs increased between 2005 and 2009. 3
Of those nighttime drivers in the 2007 National Roadside Survey who were randomly stopped on weekends and who provided oral fluid or blood specimens, 16.3 percent tested positive for drugs other than alcohol with 8.65 percent testing positive for marijuana, the most frequently encountered drug. 4 Additionally, two Maryland studies of shock trauma center admissions revealed that more than one-quarter of injured drivers tested positive for marijuana. 5 Finally, “drivers who test positive for marijuana or report driving within three hours of marijuana use are more than twice as likely as other drivers to be involved in a crash.” 6
Marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) remain classified as Schedule I controlled substances under U.S. law. 7 To this end, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has declined to approve smoked marijuana for any condition or disease and has noted, “There is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful,” and “no sound scientific studies support medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data support the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use.” 8
1 “Drug Involvement of Fatally Injured Drivers,” NHTSA Traffic Safety Facts, November 2010, DO THS 811 415, 1, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811415.pdf (accessed February 10, 2012).
2 Ibid., 1-2.
4 John H. Lacey et al., 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers: Drug Results, December 2009, DOT HS 811 249, 105, http:// www.nhtsa.gov/DOT/NHTSA/Traffic%20Injury%20Control/Articles/Associated%20Files/811249.pdf (accessed February10, 2012).
5 U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), The DEA Position on Marijuana, January 2011, 35–36,http:// www.justice.gov/dea/marijuana_position.pdf (accessed February 10, 2012).
6 Robert L. DuPont, Commentary: Marijuana Impaired Driving: A Serious Public Safety Problem, 1, December 8, 2011, revised, http:// www.stopdruggeddriving.org/pdfs/IBHCommentaryMarijuanaImpairedDriving12811.pdf (accessed February 10, 2012).
7 21 U.S.C. § 812 (c) (1), p. 524, http:// www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2010-title21/pdf/USCODE-2010-title21-chap13-subchapI-partB-sec812.pdf (accessed February 10, 2012); A controlled substance found in Schedule I is a drug or other substance that has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and for which there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision. 21U.S.C. § 812 (b) (1), pp. 522–523, http:// www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2010-title21/pdf/USCODE-2010-title21-chap13-subchapI-partB-sec812.pdf (accessed February 13, 2012).
8 DEA, The DEA Position on Marijuana, 3.