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Fatal Road Crashes Involving Stoned Drivers Doubled In Washington After Legalization

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Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockMay 15 2016, 18:55 UTC
363 Fatal Road Crashes Involving Stoned Drivers Doubled In Washington After Legalization
Doug Shutter/Shutterstock

Whatever your view is on marijuana, driving under the influence of any drug comes with dangers that everybody should be aware of. Experts are now claiming that “unscientific” legal driving limits are hazing the issue and putting some drivers unnecessarily at risk, while leaving others to be wrongfully convicted.

The research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said that fatal road accidents involving stoned drivers has doubled – from 8 to 17 percent – between 2013 and 2014, after Washington became one of the first two states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in December 2012. They also found one in six drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2014 had recently used marijuana.

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In addition, the new research suggested that current legal limits for driving under the influence of marijuana are subjective and unsupported by science.

Some states, including Washington, have set legal limits for the maximum amount of active THC – the main chemical compound of marijuana – that drivers can have in their bloodstream. However, finding a safe limit for drivers has proven to be problematic for both lawmakers and scientists.

The effects of marijuana vary greatly from individual to individual. According to the researchers, one individual with high levels of THC in their blood may not show signs of impaired driving, while another with low levels of THC in their system may be greatly impaired. On top of this, many regular smokers will have persistent levels of THC long after use, even if they are not high or impaired at the time.

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Additionally, blood tests often can't be administered until hours after the suspected stoned driver has been stopped by police. By this time, THC levels could have significantly dropped.

“There is understandably a strong desire by both lawmakers and the public to create legal limits for marijuana impairment, in the same manner as we do with alcohol,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s President and CEO, in a press release. “In the case of marijuana, this approach is flawed and not supported by scientific research. It’s simply not possible today to determine whether a driver is impaired based solely on the amount of the drug in their body.”

Therefore, the AAA hope their research will spur more comprehensive enforcement policies, measures that they say should be based on a two-fold system, whereby drivers must test positive for marijuana and show signs of behavioral impairment.

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The AAA feel this can be achieved through better training, such as programs that instruct police on how to recognize drug-impaired drivers.


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  • driving

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