Everyone knows that driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal and can cause traffic accidents. But another dangerous habit that appears to be growing in popularity among teens has been blamed for an accident that killed a motorcyclist and several others in Green County, Pennsylvania, last fall.

According to Pennsylvania State Police, an 18-year-old man carrying five passengers in an SUV had been “dusting,” or inhaling compressed air, before he crashed into a camper and a motorcycle. The collision killed the motorcyclist, the SUV driver and two of his passengers. Several others were seriously injured in the October accident.

The SUV was on Interstate 79 when it suddenly drove up the hill on a median, went airborne and landed in the opposing lanes of traffic. After hitting a camper, the SUV collided with the motorcyclist and his passenger. The motorcyclist died at the scene and the passenger was rushed to a hospital, along with three of the SUV’s passengers.

State police said the SUV driver and passengers had been inhaling a gas used to clean computer keyboards. The compressed air, often inhaled through a straw that comes with the can, gives users a brief high similar to alcohol intoxication. It can cause lightheadedness, drowsiness and a loss of inhibition. It can also kill after just one use.

Inhaling gas fumes isn’t anything new; people have been sniffing airplane model glue, huffing aerosol paint cans and taking hits of nitrous oxide from whipped cream cans — also known as whippets — for decades. But state police worry that the practice is growing in popularity, especially among teens. And though there may not be a breath test that can determine whether drivers have been inhaling these substances, they are clearly illegal — with good reason, as this accident demonstrates.

Motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable in accidents caused by inhalants because intoxicated drivers are prone to erratic driving. As happened in this accident, an abrupt move can leave little time for a motorcyclist to react in time to avoid a crash. Had the SUV driver survived, he might have been subject to a civil personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit filed by the motorcyclist’s passenger or family members. Instead, the driver’s use of inhalants ended his own life along with so many others – further proving that inhalants are extremely hazardous to everyone on the road.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “‘Dusting’ blamed in fatal crash, growing in popularity,” Molly Born and Lexi Belculfine, Jan. 15, 2013

  • Our firm handles motorcycle accident cases involving intoxicated drivers. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Harrisburg motorcycle accident page.