NASHVILLE -- Nearly 70% of Americans think it's unlikely a driver will get caught by police for driving while high on marijuana, according to a new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey.
An alarming finding shows that an estimated 14.8 million drivers report getting behind the wheel within one hour after using marijuana in the past 30 days. The impairing effects of marijuana are usually experienced within the first one to four hours after using the drug.(1) And marijuana users who drive high are up to twice as likely to be involved in a crash.(2)
"Marijuana can significantly alter reaction times and impair a driver's judgement. Yet, many drivers don't consider marijuana-impaired driving as risky as other behaviors like driving drunk or talking on the phone while driving," said Dr. David Yang, Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "It is important for everyone to understand that driving after recently using marijuana can put themselves and others at risk."
In the AAA Foundation survey, 7% of Americans reported they approved of driving after recently using marijuana - more than other dangerous behaviors like alcohol-impaired driving (1.6%), drowsy driving (1.7%), and prescription drug-impaired driving (3%). Other survey findings show that:
Millennials (nearly 14%) are most likely to report driving within one hour after using marijuana in the past 30 days, followed by Generation Z (10%).
Men (8%) are more likely than women (5%) to report driving shortly after using marijuana in the past 30 days.
"Driving while impaired by any substance is unacceptable," said Stephanie Milani, Tennessee Public Affairs Director, AAA - The Auto Club Group. "Law enforcement officials are getting more sophisticated in their methods for identifying marijuana-impaired drivers and the consequences are not worth the risk."
Programs like Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and the 50-State Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program were developed to train law enforcement officers around the country to more effectively recognize drug-impaired driving. There are currently more than 87,000 ARIDE and 8,300 DECP trained officers patrolling U.S. roads. Additionally, the number of trained Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) has increased by 30% since 2013. These officers report that marijuana is the most frequently identified drug category. Since 2015, the number of drivers arrested by DREs for using marijuana increased 20%.(3)
There are currently 185 DREs in Tennessee. The Tennessee Highway Safety Office (THSO) has trained over 1,000 troopers, officers and deputies in ARIDE over the past three years and will continue to extend this training across the state in the next year. THSO will conduct four DRE training courses in 2019 and six in 2020.
"With drugged driving fatalities now exceeding alcohol related fatalities, law enforcement across Tennessee are challenged to raise the bar on the number of law enforcement trained in this area," said Tony Burnett, DRE Coordinator, Tennessee Highway Safety Office. "It is imperative that we are proficient to detect, arrest, and prosecute drug impaired drivers. Much of our energy at the Tennessee Highway Safety Office will be spent over the coming years to address this problem."
AAA recommends all motorists avoid driving while impaired by marijuana or any other drug (including alcohol) to avoid arrest and keep the roads safe. Just because a drug is legal does not mean it is safe to use while operating a motor vehicle. Drivers who get behind the wheel while impaired put themselves and others at risk.
The new survey results are part of the AAA Foundation's annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which identifies attitudes and behaviors related to traffic safety. The survey data are from a sample of 2,582 licensed drivers ages 16 and older who reported driving in the past 30 days. The AAA Foundation issued its first Traffic Safety Culture Index in 2008, and the latest report is online at www.AAAFoundation.org.
(1) MacDonald S. Cannabis Crashes: Myths & Truths 2019
(2) Hall W. What has research over the past two decades revealed about the adverse health effects of recreational cannabis use? Addiction 2015; 110: 19-35.
(3) 2017 Annual DECP Report - International Association of Chiefs of Police