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Study: Half of Americans Concerned About Pot and Driving

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Buzzed-DrivingA new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that nearly half of Americans are concerned that legalized recreational marijuana presents a threat to road safety, as an AAA press release says. Because laws vary from state to state, it is not surprising that more than half of U.S. drivers are unaware of what laws exist in their state, Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a press release.

Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as AAA writes. “Sixteen states forbid any presence of prohibited drugs, while five others have specific limits for marijuana,” Kissinger said.

The foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index also found that U.S. drivers are “significantly” less concerned about how driving is affected by drug impairment than by alcohol impairment; although two-thirds of those surveyed said that driving after drinking alcohol is a very serious threat to driving safety, just over half said the same thing about drug use and driving, the press release says.

According to federal government research tests, pot can impair driving for up to three hours, and can cause decreased handling ability, increased reaction times, and drowsiness, Kissinger said. An editorial in the Kennebunkport Journal and Morning Sentinel in Maine opines that too little is known about how marijuana affects a person’s ability to drive.

The editorial goes on to say:

Marijuana OUI blood tests will be part of legislation proposed this session by the Maine Department of Public Safety. Maine would follow Colorado, Washington and Montana, all of which have set an intoxication limit of 5 parts per billion of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. In addition, Nevada has a limit of 2 parts per billion, while 11 other states have “zero tolerance” laws for the presence of THC.

Preliminary research, the editorial says, suggests that marijuana use can double the chance of a car accident: “about equal to the effect of texting while driving, and far less than drunken driving.” The editorial cites “Drug use and fatal motor vehicle crashes: A case-control study,” by Guohua Li, Joanne E. Brady, and Qixuan Chen, supported partly by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

The AAA Foundation study found that Americans are even less concerned about driving under the influence of prescription medications, with just more than one quarter of those surveyed feeling a serious threat to their personal safety as a result of driving on prescription drugs, writes Michael Strong for the Detroit Bureau:

Previous studies have found that a single dose of some cold and allergy medications can have the same effect on driving as being above the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration, and certain antidepressants have been shown to increase crash risk by up to 41%.

Strong quotes Jake Nelson, AAA’s Director of Traffic Safety Advocacy:

‘Just because a doctor prescribes a drug, or you can purchase it over-the-counter doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe to use while driving…. Always discuss potential side effects and interactions with your doctor or pharmacist before getting behind the wheel.’

In a related news item, wishtv8.com reports that the federal government kicked off a campaign yesterday to help people stay safe on New Year’s Eve, one of the deadliest days on the road because of impaired driving. As part of the campaign, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was to be holding a Twitter chat yesterday at 3 p.m. on the topic “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving,” as Teresa Mackin writes for wishtv8.com. The campaign urges people to arrange for a designated, sober driver to drive them home; or to call a cab or the ride companies Lyft or Uber, both of which have partnered with MADD to keep people safe on New Year’s Eve.

Mackin quotes MADD’s Lael Hill:

‘Even if you plan on having one or two drinks, that could easily turn into five or ten, and alcohol creeps up on you very quickly. At a .08 you are definitely impaired and not safe to drive.’

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