Study: Legalized marijuana doubled fatal crashes among Washington users

Washington state legalized marijuana and fatal crashes increased.

Washington state legalized marijuana and fatal crashes increased.

Fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana doubled in Washington after the state legalized the drug, according to the latest research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

New research also shows that legal limits for marijuana and driving are arbitrary and unsupported by science, which could result in unsafe motorists going free and others being wrongfully convicted for impaired driving.

Washington was one of the first two states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, and these findings raise serious concerns about drug-impaired driving with at least 20 states considering marijuana legalization this year.

“AAA does not take a position on the legalization of marijuana, but is passionate about laws ensuring the safety of the motoring public,” said Kevin Bakewell, Senior Vice President and Chief Public Affairs Officer for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “Given the findings of this new research, our advice is that nobody should drive after recent marijuana use, and law enforcement should have a fair and educated approach for dealing with those who do.”

The Foundation examined drug tests and fatal crashes among drivers in Washington, a state that legalized marijuana in December 2012. The researchers found:

  • The percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who recently used marijuana more than doubled from eight to 17 percent between 2013 and 2014.
  • One in six drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2014 had recently used marijuana, which is the most recent data available.

“The significant increase in fatal crashes with marijuana present is definitely a cause for concern,” said Matt Nasworthy, Traffic Safety Consultant for AAA – The Auto Club Group. “These findings make it all the more critical that we continue to research ways to enforce impaired driving scientifically, not simply by using an arbitrary number.”

Four states, including Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C., have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and 20 states have legalized it for therapeutic and medicinal use. Montana and Washington have implemented a per se limit for marijuana at 5 ng/mL; Nevada and Ohio have set a limit at 2 ng/mL; and Pennsylvania’s is set at 1 ng/mL (view a map). Twelve states have strict per se laws that forbid the presence of any levels of marijuana. In Colorado, a blood concentration of 5 ng/mL or more gives rise to permissible inference that a person was driving under the influence of the drug.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety will release additional studies later this year that will focus more on marijuana impaired driving and the data collected.

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