ORLANDO, Fla. (Oct. 10, 2016) — AAA Inc. has weighed in with a thumbs down on whether marijuana legislation being considered by some states should be adopted.
The national auto club said it “opposes measures to legalize recreational marijuana use” and recommends a “no” vote on both California's Proposition 64 and Maine's Question 1.
In a statement titled “A Dangerous Mix,” AAA took a look at various nationwide efforts to legalize recreational marijuana use, then issued its recommendation: Don't.
“We have a genuine traffic safety concern related to the legalization of recreational marijuana use,” AAA stated. “It has taken generations to educate the public about drinking and driving and to strengthen the laws to reduce drunken driving. These (marijuana) measures would create new traffic safety issues and increase the problem of impaired driving.”
Recent research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety raises “many concerns about whether we are prepared to address the traffic safety risks Proposition 64 and Question 1 pose. More studies are needed before making such a far-reaching policy change that could have unintended, but tragic, consequences for traffic safety,” AAA said.
The organization noted that this election year, voters in five states will decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana use. Among them are California with Proposition 64 and Maine with Question 1. “Any states that do will join the four others where the drug is already legal for recreational use.”
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety analyzed cannabis use by drivers in one of those states — Washington — and found that the proportion of drivers involved in fatal crashes who had recently used marijuana more than doubled after that state legalized the drug for recreational use. In addition, “there's currently no easy way to test whether a driver is impaired by marijuana — unlike alcohol, it can't be determined by breath or blood tests,” AAA added.
After alcohol, the club explained that marijuana “is the most common drug found in drivers who have been involved in traffic collisions, adding that the drug's main psychoactive ingredient, active-THC, affects key parts of the brain, which can lead to:
- Difficulty paying attention;
- Difficulty staying in traffic lane;
- Slower reaction times;
- Difficulty judging distances;
- Slower decision-making;
- Reduced peripheral vision; and
- Reduced coordination.
Research results are mixed, but some studies have found that using marijuana as much as doubles a driver's risk of crashing, AAA said, citing a 2013 study. Furthermore, research shows that drivers killed in crashes who tested positive for marijuana were 1.29 to 6.6 times more likely to have caused the collision, according to another 2013 study.
In 2012, Washington state voters approved Initiative 502 to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults, and the law took effect in December of that year. AAA said it examined drug tests and fatal crashes among Washington drivers between 2010 and 2014 and found that the percentage of Washington drivers involved in fatal crashes who had recently used marijuana was 8 percent in 2013 and increased to 17 percent in 2014.
“After legalization, the proportion of fatal crashes that involved marijuana more than doubled,” AAA said. “While the data analyzed for the study did not include enough information to determine which driver was at fault in a given crash, the trend is troubling because the proportion of fatal crashes involving marijuana in Washington had been relatively stable between 2010 and 2013.”
To combat marijuana-related crashes, some states have instituted “per se” legal blood limits on active-THC, AAA said, with Washington instituting one as part of Initiative 502 and four other states having them as well.
Per se limits make it a crime to drive with more than a certain amount of a drug in one's system. Drunk driving laws are a well-known example — in the U.S., driving with a blood alcohol concentration above 0.08 percent is automatically a crime, AAA pointed out. “That's because decades of research have established a well-understood relationship between how much alcohol is in someone's blood and their risk of crashing. Per se limits work for alcohol, because we can reliably predict crash risk from blood alcohol concentration.”
The auto club said these limits don't work for marijuana, for several reasons:
- There's no evidence that drivers definitively become impaired at a specific level of active-THC in the blood. Some individuals with high blood active-THC levels may not be significantly impaired, whereas others with low levels may still be severely affected.
- There's currently no way to quickly determine active-THC levels. AAA found that it takes more than two hours on average to collect a blood sample, which means high active-THC levels may decline significantly before they can be measured.
- Marijuana is metabolized in the body differently from person to person. Frequent users can exhibit persistent blood active-THC long after active use, while occasional users may see their levels decline much more rapidly.
“Per se legal limits on marijuana intoxication while driving are well-intentioned,” AAA said, “but they're not supported by scientific evidence. Instead, they're likely to result in unsafe drivers being cleared and unimpaired drivers being convicted.”