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Driving drunk and stoned: Alarming new trend killing hundreds on Wash. highways

Police in Washington State are stepping patrols in response to an alarming new trend - a spike in deadly crashes caused by DUI drivers who are drunk and impaired by other drugs at the same time. (Photo: KOMO News)

Police in Washington State are stepping patrols in response to an alarming new trend - a spike in deadly crashes caused by DUI drivers who are drunk and impaired by other drugs at the same time.

A new report by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission says the number of fatal crashes involving DUI drivers who are both drunk and drugged has increased by an average of 15 percent every year since 2012.

As of 2016, one in four of all Washington state traffic deaths involved a "poly-drug" impaired driver. The most common combination is alcohol and marijuana.

In 2017 alone, 250 people were killed in such crashes, the report says.

“These tragedies are completely preventable,” said Darrin Grondel, the safety commission's director.

Misconceptions about marijuana use, especially among young drivers, could be one factor in the new trend, says the report.

A statewide roadside survey included in the report shows that of the young drivers ages 15 to 20 who admit to driving after marijuana use, more than half believe marijuana makes their driving better.

“This is an especially dangerous belief if, for example, a driver uses marijuana to compensate for the consumption of another substance that impairs driving ability, such as alcohol,” said Staci Hoff, research director for the study. "The deadly consequence of combining these two particular substances is very apparent in all our fatal crash data.”

Safety officials point out that there are so many ways to travel safely, from taxis and ridesharing apps to public transportation, that driving drunk or driving high should never be an option.

The trend of drunk and drugged driving is especially alarming at this time of year, mid-August through early September, which is typically the deadliest time of the year on the state’s roadways, according to the safety commission.

As a result, more than 160 local law enforcement agencies and the Washington State Patrol say they will participate in emphasis patrols in search of drivers under the influence of drugs and alcohol between now and Labor Day.

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