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posted by n1 on Wednesday September 03 2014, @10:46PM   Printer-friendly
from the ridin'-dirty dept.

As states liberalize their marijuana laws, public officials and safety advocates worry that more drivers using the drug will lead to a big increase in traffic deaths. Now The Guardian reports that it appears that unlike alcohol, drivers using marijuana tend to be aware that they are impaired and try to compensate by driving slowly, avoiding risky actions such as passing other cars, and allowing extra room between vehicles. In Washington State, there was a jump of nearly 25% in drivers testing positive for marijuana in 2013 – the first full year after legalization – but no corresponding increase in car accidents or fatalities. When adjusted for alcohol and driver demographics, a study by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation found that otherwise sober drivers who tested positive for marijuana were slightly less likely to have been involved in a crash (PDF) than drivers who tested negative for all drugs. “We were expecting a huge impact,” says Eduardo Romano, lead author of the study, “and when we looked at the data from crashes we’re not seeing that much.”

But another recent study that used similar data to assess crash risk came to an opposite conclusion. When Columbia University researchers compared drivers who tested positive for marijuana in a roadside survey with state drug and alcohol tests of drivers killed in crashes, they found that marijuana alone increased the likelihood of being involved in a fatal crash by 80% (PDF). But because the study included states where not all drivers are tested for alcohol and drugs, a majority of drivers in fatal crashes were excluded, possibly skewing the results. Also, the use of urine tests rather than blood tests in some cases may overestimate marijuana use and impairment. “We see the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington as a wake-up call for all of us in highway safety,” says Jonathan Adkins. "We don’t know enough about the scope of marijuana-impaired driving to call it a big or small problem.

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  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by SacredSalt on Thursday September 04 2014, @04:20AM

    by SacredSalt (2772) on Thursday September 04 2014, @04:20AM (#89202)

    It will come down to what they always find:

    Vehicle fatalities come down to: alcohol, multiple substance, tired driving, inattention, failure to slow down for road conditions, and lastly being unlucky if you are hit.

    I wouldn't expect marijuana legalization to have much impact except on the 2nd category. Generally your folks that party irresponsibly are going to use, and drive on multiple substances or while severely impaired from alcohol alone. I guarantee you there is a limit to which marijuana use impairs a person from driving -- especially early on in the drug career. I also can pretty much guarantee you that limit becomes higher with repeated use. The percentage of people that were driving on multiple substances likely only increased marginally with legalization. The party crowd tended to disregard those laws before they had legalization, and certainly will continue to after.

    The real problem is trying to find a way to set a meaningful limit, and to administer some type of actual impairment testing to take dangerous drivers off the road before they have a fatal accident.

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