AAA research produced an estimate that within the past 30 days, nearly 15 million people admitted to driving within an hour after using pot.

Marijuana Legalization Trends Increase Safety Concerns

As of June 2019, 33 states and the District of Columbia had passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form. Eleven states, including Colorado, have legalized pot for recreational use, while other states limit the usage, mostly for medicinal reasons. As more states legalize marijuana use, safety officials are becoming more vocal in their concern about the growing number of people who are driving high after consuming cannabis.

Marijuana Detected More Often After Fatal Auto Accidents

A national map on the legal status of recreational and medicinal marijuana use was recently updated, and it shows a growing movement across the U.S.; more states are now decriminalizing the use of cannabis. While many are in favor of lenient laws related to the use and distribution of marijuana, a recent study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) has safety officials concerned, and for good reason. According to the AAA study, the percentage of drivers using marijuana and then getting involved in a fatal crash more than doubled between 2013 and 2014. AAA notes that in 2013, eight percent of deadly accidents involved a driver who had recently used cannabis, and that proportion rose to 17 percent the very next year. As one example, the AAA study zeroed in on the state of Washington, which showed that an astounding one in six drivers involved in a fatal auto accident had recently used pot.

The safety issue is also noted here in Colorado. The Denver Post highlighted this problem in 2017 when it reported:

Police, victims’ families, and safety advocates say the numbers of drivers testing positive for marijuana use — which have grown at a quicker rate than the increase in pot usage in Colorado since 2013 — are rising too quickly to ignore and highlight the potential dangers of mixing pot with driving.

The newspaper article went on to discuss the dual effects of alcohol use and pot use on fatal crashes in the state. Using 2013-16 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), information showed the number of drivers involved in fatal car accidents related to alcohol use rose by 17 percent, and while that number is disturbing, something even more so was reported — the number of drivers killed who tested positive for marijuana during that time period rose by 145 percent.

Millions Don’t Appreciate Risk

Not only did the AAA study look at actual pot use, but it also delved into attitudes towards the use of cannabis and the safety of driving. AAA research produced an estimate that within the past 30 days, nearly 15 million people admitted to driving within an hour after using pot.

The AAA study showed that many drivers don’t believe driving high is as dangerous as driving drunk. Even more startling, 70 percent of those questioned think it’s highly unlikely they will get caught driving impaired due to cannabis. Regardless of what you believe, authorities say substances, whether it’s alcohol or drugs, both those legal and illegal, can impair driving. For example:

  • Both alcohol and marijuana impair coordination and increase the amount of time it takes you to react to something
  • Some drugs, such as cocaine, can make you aggressive and inattentive
  • Some over-the-counter medications can make you drowsy and dizzy, issues that also put you at risk when driving

Driver attitudes toward the use of cannabis recently brought industry leaders to Denver for an in-depth conversation on what needs to be done to decrease the number of people driving high and to emphasize the dangers of doing so. Driver education is something authorities are pushing, and part of that education is getting people to plan ahead. Ride-sharing or designating a sober driver are just two ways of highlighting safety and hopefully decreasing the number of people on the roads driving high or under the influence of other substances that can interfere with safely operating a vehicle.

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