Fatal car accidents are on the rise, and a recent study claims the increase may be due to the legalization of recreational marijuana. Data analyzed by the American Automobile Association (AAA) suggests a surge of deadly car crashes in states that have also legalized weed.
As reported by CBS News, the study specifically looked at the state of Washington, where recreational weed was legalized in 2014. According to the data, the number of fatal car crashes involving a stoned driver increased from 8 percent in 2013 to 17 percent the very next year.
“The significant increase in fatal crashes involving marijuana is alarming,” said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Washington serves as an eye-opening case study for what other states may experience with road safety after legalizing the drug.”
According to the state of Washington, there were 436 fatal car accidents in 2013. In 40 of those crashes, at least one of the drivers was under the influence of marijuana. In 2014, fatal car crashes numbered 462 with 85 drivers impaired by cannabis.
Eddie Robinson, a law enforcement officer in California, isn’t surprised by the results.
“I can’t say that I’m shocked that there is a correlation. We go back to the substances that are currently legal: alcohol, prescription medications. Same thing with marijuana. Marijuana will be no different. If not used responsibly and in moderation, bad things can happen.”
Robinson, who has arrested hundreds of intoxicated drivers, foresees many more arrests if recreational marijuana becomes legal in California.
“We already have so many drugs, medications that are already legal. And we see issues with impaired driving with those medications, whether they are prescription, alcohol, what-have-you.”
However, the car club’s research only makes the association between the increase of accidents and pot legalization. It did not determine if drivers were actually impaired at the time of the accident.
Current tests for THC, the chemical in cannabis that gives people a buzz, are not very reliable. Unlike blood or urine tests used to detect alcohol, there are no proven methods to determine how high someone is on weed.
Blood tests can determine if someone has marijuana in their system, but they take time to administer. By the time the test is conducted, the level of THC has gone down significantly, making the results ineffective for determining if someone was impaired while driving.
Laboratory tests have concluded that as a person’s blood alcohol rises, their ability to drive or operate machinery gets worse. Yet, this is not necessarily true for someone high on marijuana. Science has not yet found a direct connection between THC level and impairment.
Paul Armentano, deputy director of marijuana legalization advocacy group NORML, said the inability to properly test impairment from cannabis puts the study’s findings into question. He notes that the data may just be a reflection of the public’s increased use of the drug coupled with more routine marijuana screenings done by police after a fatal accident.
Armentano said a 2015 study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Administration revealed drivers who used marijuana just before getting behind the wheel were no more likely to get into a traffic accident than individuals who had not used any drugs. That same study also found drivers under the influence of alcohol were seven times more likely to be involved in a car crash.
According to AAA, the study was intended to inspire better enforcement policies to help prevent fatal car accidents and encourage police officers to be on the lookout for signs of pot impairment. The motor club also reminds people everywhere that even if recreational marijuana is legal, it does not make it safe to use when driving.
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