Cannabis doubles the risk of fatal crashes


By Gaia Vince Cannabis almost doubles the risk of fatal car crashes, according to a new study, though smoking the drug is still far less risky than drink-driving, the researchers say. Stoned drivers were almost twice as likely to be involved in a fatal car crashes than abstemious drivers, according to a study of 10,748 fatal car crashes in France between 2001 and 2003. More than half of the drivers in the study themselves died as a result of their accidents and all the subjects were tested for drug and alcohol use after crashing. Even after accounting for factors such as the age of the drivers and the condition of the vehicle, the researchers conclude that cannabis caused a significant number of the fatalities, with 2.5% of the crashes directly attributed to cannabis use. Alcohol was the direct cause of about 29%. Using cannabis and alcohol together was 16 times more risky than driving with neither drug in their body. “You are more likely to be involved in a crash, probably because of the drug’s effect on your reaction times and concentration,” says Jean-Louis Martin who carried out the research at the Université Claude Bernard in Lyon, France. “But the drug also makes you more vulnerable to the effects of the crash, so you are more likely to die.” The study did not explore why cannabis smokers fair less well in a crash. The researchers found it was younger drivers, more often male and driving older cars, mopeds or motorcycles, who were most likely to have taken cannabis. A total of 681 drivers tested positive for cannabis (7% of all the drivers in the study), while 2096 drivers had illegal concentrations of alcohol in their bodies (21.4%). While cannabis is an illegal drug in France, and specific penalties exist for those who drive while under its influence, the prevalence of cannabis in the French driving population is 2.9%, similar to that for alcohol, at 2.7%. “These shocking results prove beyond doubt the dangers of drug-driving, and of mixing drink and drugs before getting behind the wheel,” says Mary Williams, chief executive of Brake, the UK’s national road safety charity. “We need to see the government doing targeted, prime-time TV advertising on the issue of drug-driving, and we desperately need to see drink- and drug-driving being discussed with young people as part of a compulsory health and safety curriculum at school and during novice driver training,” she adds. “We also need to see a national roll out of roadside drugs-testing by the police to catch drug-drivers before they kill or injure innocent road users.” Journal reference: British Medical Journal (DOI: 10.1136/bmj.38648.617986.1F) More on these topics:
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