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Marijuana positive tests sky rocket in fatal Utah crashes

Positive marijuana tests have jumped 300 percent in the past three years in Utah's fatal crashes. In past decade, 128 people that have died in fatal crashes in Utah have tested positive for the drug. (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) Positive marijuana tests have sky rocketed nearly 300 percent in 3 years in fatal Utah crashes.

The numbers are staggering and are raising concern with the increase happening during the same time period marijuana has been legalized in neighboring Colorado.

128 people who've died in fatal crashes in the last decade in Utah have tested positive for marijuana. That number has jumped in the last 3 years, raising alarms for Utah's Department of Public Safety.

"It is always a concern when the numbers go up." Sgt. Christian Newlin knows the numbers and says drivers testing positive for marijuana in fatal accidents have increased from 10 in 2013 to 21 in 2014 and 38 in 2015.

The increase equals 280 percent in 3 years.

"We are investigating a number of different causes for that spike, part of that could be increased use because of the legalization in states like Colorado, another part could be that we are training more officers to investigate them." In recent years UHP troopers Newlin says -have been trained to watch for marijuana use and report it after a crash, this could be a part of the bump.

While more and more Utahn's are testing positive for THC in fatal crashes, what isn't so easy to spell out is whether or not marijuana impaired the driver to the point of causing the fatal crash. "There is a huge spike in the drug positive number however it is really hard to or correlate that with an increase of use and an increase of impairment."

UHP troopers are being trained to watch for impaired driving and when someone is pulled over for impaired driving to look for "eyelid tremors, green on the tongue, and blisters on the back of the tongue."

Currently there is not a standardized field test for marijuana that has passed legal tests. Finding a marijuana test equal to a breathalyzer or blood alcohol test that can be used successfully in the field - is still in the works. States like Colorado are starting to use a test that looks at saliva, and UHP troopers may start using it in the near future.

The unknowns involved with marijuana use and impairment are what led Utah's Department of Public Safety- in part- to fight against the legalization of medical marijuana in the last legislative session.

"While we cannot draw a direct correlation between drug positive drivers and intoxication -anytime we have fatalities go up - or at any time we have an increase in drug positive drivers it is a huge concern for us."

74 percent of drivers killed in fatal crashes with marijuana in their systems in Utah are teen boys and men ranging in age from 15-39 year olds.

For more information on Utah's drug numbers in fatal crashes, including the number 2 drug found in the systems of drivers- go to highwaysafety.utah.gov.

Follow Heidi Hatch on Twitter @tvheidihatch for breaking news, updates and more.

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