If marijuana is legalized in New Jersey, how will it affect drivers?
Fatal crashes involving Washington state drivers who tested positive for the recent use of marijuana has doubled since the state legalized the drug in December 2012, according to the latest research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair Jr. said the study looked at the years prior to legalization. From 2008 and 2012, it was estimated that 8.8% of Washington drivers involved in fatal crashes tested positive for THC — marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient. That number rose to 18% between 2013 and 2017, when the drug was legalized.
He added that an average of 56 Washington drivers were involved in fatal crashes each year while THC positive in the five years before legalization. In the five years after legalization, that number rose to 130.
Sinclair said the problem with this study is that while it showed an increase in the number of those involved in fatal crashes who tested positive for marijuana in that state, the drug stays in a person's system for up to 30 days. That's long past the period of time when a person would be considered impaired.
"This shows that more people are dying in crashes that tested positive for marijuana, not necessarily impaired, but certainly they could've been. It's worrisome to us that we see this increase," said Sinclair.
Eleven states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana for both recreational and medical use. In November, voters will decide whether or not to legalize it in New Jersey.
AAA said it opposes the legalization of marijuana for recreational use because of its traffic safety risks and because of the difficulties in writing legislation that would protect the public and treat drivers fairly.
If the legalization of pot happens in New Jersey, Sinclair said there needs to be put into place, a provision that can curb the use of the drug while driving. He said a roadside breathalyzer test would be great but that has not been developed.
In the meantime, he said there should be more drug recognition experts. These are usually police officers who have been thoroughly trained in how to recognize a person who has been using marijuana.
Another statistic to come out of last year's survey is that about 70% of drivers said they did not think they would get caught if they used marijuana.
"That conditions drivers who think that way to be brazen in their behavior to get out and start driving after they smoke," said Sinclair, adding that pot needs to be treated like alcohol when drivers get behind the wheel. Sinclair said marijuana can inhibit concentration, slow reaction times and cloud a person's judgment.
In an attempt to curtail drug-impaired driving, Colorado, Montana, Washington, Nevada, Ohio and Pennsylvania have set legal non-zero limits on the amount of THC drivers can have in their system. Sinclair said AAA believes imposing such limits is a problem because no data reliably shows what level of THC impairs driving and the effects vary by user. AAA, believes the states should adopt a two-pronged approach that requires a positive test for recent marijuana use and behavioral and physiological signs of driver impairment.