By Laura Stack
Today, tens of thousands of people die annually in auto accidents in the United States alone. Intoxicated drivers cause about one-third of those deaths. For decades, alcohol was the predominant intoxicant of choice, but drugged driving, driving under the influence of other drugs, alone, or in combination with alcohol, has become increasingly more common. However, intoxicant-related statistics to deaths involving marijuana intoxication aren’t always broken out. Additionally, traffic officers aren’t always trained to recognize the difference between alcohol and marijuana intoxication.
Regrettably, until recent years, neither users nor most authorities took marijuana seriously as a contributor to traffic accidents and fatalities. As a society, we’re now starting to learn our lesson, as it’s become increasingly obvious that modern marijuana greatly impairs a user’s ability to drive as any other intoxicant. Whoever believes they can drive better while under the influence of a mind-altering substance is fooling themselves.
Now that marijuana has been legalized or decriminalized in many states, law officers have had to deal with stoned drivers more and more often, as outlined in a crucial 2017 report to Congress. Five years later, there’s still no standard, validated field test for determining THC content in a person’s bloodstream, as there is for Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). However, traffic officers use field coordination tests to recognize stoned drivers and tests such as asking offenders to say the alphabet backward from a letter in the middle.
What makes stoned driving so dangerous? We now know marijuana intoxication dulls the abilities to:
- Assess risks
- Plan routes
- Make quick decisions
- Brake suddenly
- Drive straight
- Pay attention to multiple things (the road, traffic, mirrors)
While we’ve made good progress with public service efforts to drive down alcohol-related deaths, traffic deaths peaked in the first nine months of 2021, after dropping significantly from 1980-2019. The article says, “Distracted driving, drowsy driving, drunk driving, speeding and not wearing a safety belt continue to be the leading factors in these otherwise preventable crashes,” but it doesn’t mention drugged driving. But at the height of COVID, when mental illness was at a peak, I suspect some of it has been due to increased use of highly potent modern marijuana.
It’s time to get serious about getting the message out there that driving stoned is just as unacceptable as driving drunk.