Legalized weed will deliver new highway dangers

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Way too many people are driving high on marijuana, according to a new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey.

Worse, way too many of them think they won’t get caught.

Fair warning: Authorities are working hard to prove them wrong.

An estimated 14.8 million drivers report getting behind the wheel within an hour after using marijuana in the past 30 days, despite the fact the effects of marijuana take one to four hours to take effect.

Drivers high on marijuana are twice as likely to be involved in a crash.

“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.”

Your attitude about driving and marijuana depends on who you are -- 14% of millennials age 25-39 are most likely to report driving within an hour after using marijuana in the last month, followed by 10% of Generation Z, ages 14-19.

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 Rose White, Nebraska 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.”

Law enforcement is stepping up to the challenge, training 87,000 officers in the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement -- ARIDE -- program and another 8,300 in the 50-State Drug Evaluation and Classification program.

In addition, the number of trained Drug Recognition Experts has increased 30% since 2013, and these officers report that marijuana is the most frequently identified drug category.

Since 2015, the number of drivers arrested by DREs for using marijuana has increased 20%.

Nebraska has more than 800 law enforcement officers completing ARIDE training the in the past three years, and there are 100 DRE-qualified officers in the state, plus another 24 scheduled to complete training this year.

“With the increase in drugged driving fatalities, law enforcement agencies across Nebraska are challenged to elevate their training efforts in this area and increase the number of law enforcement officers trained in ARIDE,” said Mark Segerstrom, Highway Safety Administrator for the Nebraska Department of Transportation Highway Safety Office. “It is imperative that we are proficient to detect, arrest, and prosecute drug impaired drivers to address this critical traffic safety issue.”

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.

As Nebraska and other states debate the legalization of recreational marijuana, it’s important that the cost in lives and property damage caused by impaired drivers has to be taken into consideration.

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