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Study shows rise in drugged driving, limits of current tests

Drivers in New York are probably aware that with the legalization of recreational marijuana in seven states and Washington, D.C., there has been a rise in drugged driving. The Governors Highway Safety Association released a study showing that between 2006 and 2016, researchers saw a 16 percent rise in the number of fatally injured drivers with drugs found in their systems. The total was 44 percent in 2016.

Of those drivers, 38 percent tested positive for some form of marijuana. This was followed by opioids at 16 percent and a combination of marijuana and opioids at 4 percent. In fact, 51 percent of the tested drivers had two or more drugs in their body. Alcohol was another common factor, being discovered in 49 percent of drugged drivers who died.

The effect of marijuana on crash risk is still unclear. Studies on this are intrinsically flawed because of the difficulty of estimating a driver's THC at the time of a crash. However, it is estimated that drivers high on marijuana increase their risk for a crash by 25 to 35 percent.

Drug testing standards vary from state to state, complicating matters even more, and not every driver is tested. The GHSA stresses that its study is not about impaired drivers; the presence of drugs does not automatically point to impairment because drugs can affect drivers in different ways.

After a motor vehicle accident, victims injured by a drugged driver have the grounds for a personal injury claim; building it up with the testimony of drug experts can require legal assistance, however. Lawyers may tackle negotiations on behalf of a victim, sidestepping the aggressive tactics used by the auto insurance company, and if an agreement cannot be reached, lawyers may litigate. A successful claim might cover medical expenses, vehicle repair costs and more.

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