BY ROBERT GORDON | Guest columnist
Glorifying marijuana use is now a staple across pop culture, music and Hollywood, where getting high is celebrated with nary a mention of the public safety risks involved. But if you smoke, vape, or enjoy edibles and get behind the wheel of a car while impaired, not only are you breaking the law, you are putting your life and the lives of others on the road in great danger.
Drivers should be especially cautious today — otherwise known as National Weed Day. Alarmingly, a new Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) survey found that more than two thirds of Americans (68 percent) did not think there was any increased driving risk on National Weed Day.
But new research published in JAMA Internal Medicine foumd that traffic fatalities were 12 percent more likely on 4/20 after 4:20 p.m. (the time the smoking celebration traditionally begins) than on the same day one week before or one week after. And no matter what time of the year, marijuana users are 25 percent more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers with no evidence of pot use.
Marijuana use is most prevalent among young adults aged 18 to 25 with more than 11 million in the age bracket using the drug in 2015. Yet, despite the rapidly growing drug use by teens and young adults, many parents are not taking the dangers seriously. PCI’s survey found more than 50 percent of parents with teenagers at home said they have not spoken to their children about the dangers of driving high in the days leading up to April 20.
According to JAMA’s study, fatal crashes on National Weed Day are 38 percent more likely for drivers under 21 years old — almost the same risk as the spike in car crash deaths on Super Bowl Sunday, which is traditionally a day of increased alcohol intake.
It is clear that far too many Americans fail to truly understand just how dangerous driving high can be, despite evidence of an increase in cannabis-related driving accidents and fatalities in states that have liberalized marijuana laws. Research shows that marijuana use impairs psychomotor skills, leads to slower reaction times and lane tracking difficulties.
States and federal agencies are still developing standards to determine what level of marijuana consumption is unsafe and how long people need to wait after consuming marijuana before it is safe to resume driving. PCI’s survey found that 20 percent of Americans say they have driven a car under the influence of marijuana, with 81 percent of those who have driven under the influence of marijuana admitting they drove either immediately or within two hours of using the drug.
That is a recipe for disaster and underscores the need for states liberalizing their marijuana laws to start with appropriate education, safety, and enforcement standards before rolling the dice on our roadways.
A sustained public awareness campaign is needed to better educate the public about the dangers of driving high. Also states and federal agencies must continue to invest in, and research, the most effective ways to test for drugged driving, as is done with roadside alcohol tests. Police officers need to be equipped with the tools and training to successfully test, identify and enforce against drugged driving.
And it doesn’t matter what you see in the movies, marijuana use can be deadly if you choose to get behind the wheel of a car.