There is a lot of controversy surrounding the topic of marijuana. For every staunch supporter of the legalization of pot there is a dead-set denouncer. Each side can lobby pros and cons at a dizzying rate. However, one recently released study highlights a disturbing trend that has emerged as “weed” has become more commonplace. A report from the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health states, “Fatal crashes involving marijuana use tripled during the previous decade,” (Thompson, 2014).
In the past decades, many drive-safe public service announcements have revolved around the message of “don’t drink and drive”, “buckle up”, or “don’t text and drive”; however, if this new study is correct, we could soon (appropriately) see a shift towards the message of “don’t smoke and drive”. Just how prevalent is marijuana usage in car crashes? “Currently, one of nine drivers involved in fatal crashes would test positive for marijuana,” says Dr. Li, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia (Thompson, 2014).
The report looked at over 23,000 drivers who died in car accidents between the years of 1999 and 2010. At the start of the study, in 1999, drugged driving accounted for 16% of traffic related deaths; however, by the end, 28% of traffic related deaths could be attributed back to drugged driving (Thompson, 2014). These numbers do not just apply to states that have legalized marijuana. Instead, this increase in drug related deaths is an epidemic plaguing the entire United States.
Many drivers may not realize it but using pot impairs one’s driving ability much the way consuming alcohol does. Marijuana can impact judgment, vision, reflexes, and concentration making for a very dangerous driver. “The public knows about drunk driving, but I don’t think they have awareness of drugged driving, so this is a huge issue. We need to alert the public that if you’ve used any type of substance, you should not get behind the wheel,” said Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association (Thompson, 2014).
In addition to cultural perception differences between marijuana and alcohol usage, it is more difficult to spot drivers under the influence of marijuana. For example, when police want to catch drunk drivers they can linger outside of a bar…there isn’t a bar for pot (yet). In addition, police don’t have tests that are both accurate and widely acceptable for catching drugged drivers. If you are pulled over on suspicion of an alcohol related DUI you may be given a breathalyzer. Unfortunately, there isn’t an equivalent for those suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana. At this time, changing public perception of drugged driving and educating drivers may be the best bet for preventing these fatal car crashes involving marijuana usage from quadrupling or worse.