The District Council in Washington, D.C., just relaxed penalties for possessing and using marijuana, and the Mid-Atlantic American Automobile Association responded by expressing concern that the change will lead to more car crashes involving marijuana-impaired driving. Although the new pot regulations will not change penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, AAA worries that legal deterrence of marijuana is waning and that, consequentially, more drivers may think that driving while high is OK.
As marijuana laws change around the country, including legalization of recreational pot in the states of Colorado and Washington, traffic safety officials are pursuing enforcement solutions to keep pot-impaired drivers off the road.
AAA lauded the District Council for not altering D.C.’s DUI laws but also pointed to ongoing problems with testing drivers for marijuana. Unlike alcohol, pot can be detected in a driver’s system for a long time after use, and so law enforcement agencies are working on strategies for busting drivers who are high.
AAA notes that when it comes to marijuana-impaired driving, there is no equivalent to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level, which is the measure that Virginia and other states use to define drunk driving. Although Virginia and D.C. police do not have a breath test for marijuana, AAA urges law enforcement and the judicial system to use blood testing to catch and punish pot-smoking drivers.
About 10.3 million drivers admitted to driving while using illicit drugs in 2012, which sounded alarm bells for AAA and other safety advocates.
A Columbia University study concluded that pot-related traffic deaths have tripled in the past 10 years. Researchers generally agree that drug-free drivers are less likely to be in auto crashes than drivers who smoke pot. Especially concerning are research findings that marijuana users are more likely to get into fatal traffic wrecks than drivers who do not use drugs.
- Slowed reaction time
- Distractibility and difficulty concentrating
- Mild hallucinations, psychosis and increased symptoms for people with certain mental health problems
- Impaired memory and mental processing speed