Drug-driving deaths more than double in US state
SAFETY CAMPAIGNERS POINT TO RESEARCH THAT SHOWS RECREATIONAL DRUG USE PUTS ROAD USERS AT RISK
The number of fatal road crashes involving cannabis has more than doubled in a US state since the drug was legalised for recreational use in late 2012.
Research carried out by the American Automobile Association (AAA) into road deaths in Washington state, in the northwest, will intensify the controversy over whether the drug should be legalised. Washington is one of four states where recreational use of cannabis is legal — the others being Alaska, Oregon and Colorado. It is also allowed in Washington DC.
Other states could follow suit after ballots this year in California, Nevada, Arizona and Maine.
Public opinion favours legalisation, with one poll showing that 58 per cent of Americans support liberalising cannabis laws. But safety campaigners have voiced fears that legalising the recreational use of pot could put road users at risk — and the research appears to bear this out.
In Washington, where possession of cannabis became legal in December 2012, the number of people killed in crashes where the driver had recently taken pot rose from 50 to 115 in 2014. Over the same period the number of road deaths rose from 438 to 462.
An estimated one in six fatal crashes in Washington involved a driver who had recently used marijuana.
“The significant increase in fatal crashes involving marijuana is alarming,” said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Washington serves as an eye-opening case study for what other states may experience with road safety after legalising the drug.”
Several states even allow drivers to get behind the wheel if they are below a preset cannabis limit, a stance which concerns the AAA.
“There is understandably a strong desire by both lawmakers and the public to create legal limits for marijuana impairment, in the same manner as we do with alcohol,” said Marshall Doney, AAA’s chief executive.
“In the case of marijuana, this approach is flawed and not supported by scientific research. It’s simply not possible today to determine whether a driver is impaired based solely on the amount of the drug in their body.
“Marijuana can affect driver safety by impairing vehicle control and judgment. States need consistent, strong and fair enforcement measures to ensure that the increased use of marijuana does not impact road safety.”