A new report says drivers are nearly as likely to be high on pot or medication as drunk on alcohol, and urges states to take steps to monitor better and control, drugged driving. The report was released by the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a non-profit organization representing state highway safety offices.
The report cites crash data and surveys, recording a steady increase in driving under the influence of drugs, even as drunken driving rates continue to fall. Permissive laws and an increase in drug abuse are causing the drivers to be wheel impaired. Pot or marijuana is legal in 23 states and D.C, and is legal for recreational use in four states and D.C. The amounts of painkillers sold in the U.S have also quadrupled since 1990s.
“I don’t think drugged driving has received nearly the attention that drunk driving has received,” said author James Hedlund, a retired executive with the National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration.
Using the data from the recent crashes, about 40 percent of victims were found positive for drugs, with one-third testing positive for marijuana. A recent federal roadside survey also found that 22 percent of drivers were tested positive for some drug or medication. However, the report pointed out the data limitations, including distinctions between THC, a component that leads to impairment, and metabolites remain in the person’s blood long after the effects of smoking pot have worn off.
A research paper by NHTSA in February said the evidence that marijuana use impairs psychomotor skills, divided attention, lane tracking and cognitive functions, but its role in the occurrence of crashes remain less clear. In all,the states, an 0.08 level of blood alcohol level threshold has been established, but no standard has been set for impairment from marijuana. The report has recommended better public education, and most drivers in surveys have said that they don’t believe marijuana causes impairment while some said it improves their performance behind the wheel.
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