Marijuana legalization may be increasing number of stoned drivers

Marijuana legalization may be increasing number of stoned drivers

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DENVER — More Americans are getting high before driving, a new study shows, and public health officials say it’s a worrying trend that could lead to more deadly crashes on the nation’s roads.

In Washington state, the number of THC-positive drivers involved in fatal crashes more than doubled, to 18%, in the five years after voters approved recreational marijuana use for adults, according to the report published Thursday by the AAA Foundation, which was based on state-collected data.

The study didn’t examine whether the drivers were at fault for the crashes, but the data confirms long-held fears among public health officials that drivers think it’s OK to get behind the wheel while high.

“The problem here is that people don’t think they’re going to get caught,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director for traffic safety advocacy and research. “What we found is that drivers are more likely to use and get behind the wheel after the law passed.”

Simulated marijuana smoke billows from a specially equipped car being used by Colorado traffic-safety officials to draw attention to state laws prohibiting marijuana users from getting behind the wheel while stoned.

The study found that in the five years before Washington legalized marijuana in 2012, an average of 56 drivers annually tested positive for marijuana after having been involved in a fatal crash. That rose to an average of 130 drivers in the following five years. The federal government lacks equivalent national statistics about fatal crashes involving marijuana.

Overall, alcohol-related crashes remain a far larger problem than stoned drivers. According to the federal government, alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities accounted for 29 percent of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities in the United States in 2018. Federal statistics say drivers are four times as likely to get behind the wheel after drinking than they are after consuming marijuana.

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