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Safety officials say drugged driving is on the rise

New Jersey is one of many states that have legalized medical marijuana, and the number of states that have legalized recreational use of the drug has been expanding as well. With the increase in legal use of marijuana and the problem of prescription drug abuse, the National Transportation Safety Board is calling for more work to be done to combat the problem of drug-impaired driving.

On Oct. 16, the NTSB asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to write standards for roadside drug testing devices and give additional guidance to states on how to fight drug-impaired driving.

A driver in Texas who was high on marijuana was involved in a deadly crash in 2017. An NTSB investigation into that crash prompted the agency's request to the NHTSA. The driver had reportedly combined marijuana with anti-anxiety medication before crashing into a church bus. Thirteen people were killed in the accident.

Evidence has shown an increase in drugged-driving deaths as marijuana has become legal in more places and opiate use has increased. In 2006, only 30 percent of drivers who died in accidents tested positive for drugs. In 2015, that had increased to 46 percent. Random roadside testing by NHTSA has shown evidence of drug use in 22 percent of drivers.

In New Jersey, a conviction for DUI or DWI can result in fines and jail time, even on a first offense. Alcohol, illegal drugs and legal drugs, even those with a doctor's prescription, can cause impairment under the law. Testing for drug impairment is still in its early stages and is considered to be imprecise while alcohol testing that measures alcohol in a driver's blood is considered reliable. However, the results of any drug or alcohol might be challenged by a criminal defense attorney.

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