Will Traffic Deaths Rise as States Legalize Pot?

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  Will Traffic Deaths Rise as States Legalize Pot?

Posted by CN Staff on September 01, 2014 at 06:19:30 PT
By Joan Lowy, Associated Press  
Source: Associated Press 

Washington, D.C. -- As states liberalize their marijuana laws, public officials and safety advocates worry that more drivers high on pot will lead to a big increase in traffic deaths. Researchers who have studied the issue, though, are divided on the question.Studies of marijuana's effects show that the drug can slow decision-making, decrease peripheral vision and impede multitasking, all of which are critical driving skills. But unlike with alcohol, drivers high on pot tend to be aware that they are impaired and they try to compensate by driving slowly, avoiding risky actions such as passing other cars, and allowing extra room between vehicles.
On the other hand, combining marijuana with alcohol appears to eliminate the pot smoker's exaggerated caution and it seems to increase driving impairment beyond the effects of either substance alone."We see the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington as a wake-up call for all of us in highway safety," said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices."We don't know enough about the scope of marijuana-impaired driving to call it a big or small problem. But anytime a driver has their ability impaired, it is a problem."Colorado and Washington are the only states that allow retail sales of marijuana for recreational use. Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana are underway in Alaska, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and the District of Columbia. Twenty-three states and the nation's capital permit marijuana use for medical purposes.It is illegal in all states to drive while impaired by marijuana.Colorado, Washington and Montana have set an intoxication threshold of 5 parts per billion of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot, in the blood. A few other states have set intoxication thresholds, but most have not set a specific level. In Washington, there was a jump of nearly 25 percent in drivers testing positive for marijuana in 2013 — the first full year after legalization — but no corresponding increase in car accidents or fatalities.What worries highway safety experts are cases like that of New York teenager Joseph Beer, who in October 2012 smoked marijuana, climbed into a Subaru Impreza with four friends and drove more than 100 mph before losing control. The car crashed into trees with such force that the vehicle split in half, killing his friends.Beer pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide and was sentenced this past week to 5 years to 15 years in prison.A prosecutor blamed the crash on "speed and weed," but a Yale University Medical School expert on drug abuse who testified at the trial said studies of marijuana and crash risk are "highly inconclusive." Some studies show a two- or three-fold increase, while others show none, said Dr. Mehmet Sofuoglu. Some studies even showed less risk if someone was marijuana positive, he testified.Teenage boys and young men are the most likely drivers to smoke pot and the most likely drivers to have an accident regardless of whether they're high, he said."Being a teenager, a male teenager, and being involved in reckless behavior could explain both at the same time — not necessarily marijuana causing getting into accidents, but a general reckless behavior leading to both conditions at the same time," he told jurors.In 2012, just over 10 percent of high school seniors said they had smoked pot before driving at least once in the prior two weeks, according to Monitoring the Future, an annual University of Michigan survey of 50,000 middle and high school students. Nearly twice as many male students as female students said they had smoked marijuana before driving.A roadside survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2007 found 8.6 percent of drivers tested positive for THC, but it's not possible to say how many were high at the time because drivers were tested only for the presence of drugs, not the amount.A marijuana high generally peaks within a half hour and dissipates within three hours, but THC can linger for days in the bodies of habitual smokers.Inexperienced pot smokers are likely to be more impaired than habitual smokers, who develop a tolerance. Some studies show virtually no driving impairment in habitual smokers.Two recent studies that used similar data to assess crash risk came to opposite conclusions.Columbia University researchers compared drivers who tested positive for marijuana in the roadside survey with state drug and alcohol tests of drivers killed in crashes. They found that marijuana alone increased the likelihood of being involved in a fatal crash by 80 percent.But because the study included states where not all drivers are tested for alcohol and drugs, a majority of drivers in fatal crashes were excluded, possibly skewing the results. Also, the use of urine tests rather than blood tests in some cases may overestimate marijuana use and impairment.A Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation study used the roadside survey and data from nine states that test more than 80 percent of drivers killed in crashes. When adjusted for alcohol and driver demographics, the study found that otherwise sober drivers who tested positive for marijuana were slightly less likely to have been involved in a crash than drivers who tested negative for all drugs."We were expecting a huge impact," said Eduardo Romano, lead author of the study, "and when we looked at the data from crashes we're not seeing that much." But Romano said his study may slightly underestimate the risk and that marijuana may lead to accidents caused by distraction.Many states do not test drivers involved in a fatal crash for drugs unless there is reason to suspect impairment. Even if impairment is suspected, if the driver tests positive for alcohol, there may be no further testing because alcohol alone may be enough to bring criminal charges. Testing procedures also vary from state to state."If states legalize marijuana, they must set clear limits for impairment behind the wheel and require mandatory drug testing following a crash," said Deborah Hersman, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board. "Right now we have a patchwork system across the nation regarding mandatory drug testing following highway crashes."Source: Associated Press (Wire) Author: Joan Lowy, Associated Press Published:  September 1, 2014Copyright: 2014 The Associated PressCannabisNews  -- Cannabis  Archives

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Comment #5 posted by runruff on September 02, 2014 at 08:00:52 PT

I was a teenage alcoholic!
I was stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany in the USAF when I was just 17. I drank beer to excess almost everyday. I returned home and continued drinking(and driving while drinking) until age 24 when I quit alcohol completely.I found I was addicted to alcohol and could not quit on my own. A friend suggested I use pot to lessen my craving for alcohol. It worked great. A few months went by without a drink and soon I seem to never think about drinking and my life improved immensely including getting up for work without a hangover. I have not drank the booze since and other than harassment from the law for pot, my overall life has been good. Back when I did drink and drive, I was in constant trouble with the law, Dui's were always on my record. I paid outrages fines, insurance would not even take me and I spent short stays in jail sobering up. My life was in shambles. Here I am forty years later without even one traffic ticket for anything. I enjoy low insurance rates now and my health is good. I smoke pot all day everyday and I am living the time of my life right now. Prosperous, I am very happy in my relationship of 14 years with My Dear Wife. She is a fine educated and refined lady from a very fine family of medical professionals. Doctors (Uncle and Father), Her brother is a Chiropractor, Aunt is surgical nurse and others and so on. Every member of her republican family were adamantly against any form of pot legalization. Now? Every one of them support , not only mmj but full legalization all because their awareness was raised after seeing how the fed persecuted me. They no long listen to Rush or fox news and are changing their party affiliations because off me and hearing and seeing the truth. When Wifey's Gram started feeling ill her son, ( a doctor and oral surgeon, told his sister to contact Jerry and see if we can get her some cannabis to help her feel better. We made her some cannahoney and she felt great everyday after she started taking it. at 97 she loved her cannahoney and we were family heroes. Gram passed away last February. Over the past 40 years I have observed the drinkers in my very large family, were dysfunctional in some way or other because of alcohol consumption. Friends and family who used pot only have had good lives, careers and relationships. Imagine how I felt watching that professional liar, Mickey the Mouth tell congress that, "pot was bad, m'kay"? For forty years and longer the fed has been pissing down our backs and telling us," it is only raining"! 
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Comment #4 posted by swazi-x on September 01, 2014 at 18:10:27 PT

Does The Associated Press Craft Headlines For Sales?Will Anyone At The Associated Press Ever Remove Their Heads From Their Asses?Do Police Murder Suspects And Hide Their Bodies?Can Reporters Ever Tell The Truth?Will The Lies About The Dangers of Cannabis Ever Stop?Does Joan Lowy Torture Small Animals?Was Joan Lowy's Grandfather A Nazi War Criminal?Direct Reefer Madness-era bs of a "story", way too telling of the ignorance (or more accurately, the willful ignorance) of most "news" outlets. Editors hand down the directive to keep the truth tamped down below the fear line by wasting time and attention on pieces of crap like this.

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Comment #3 posted by FoM on September 01, 2014 at 16:06:09 PT

Your wisdom is always appreciated!
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Comment #2 posted by observer on September 01, 2014 at 13:04:57 PT

 Obfuscated and Carefully Buried: Pot is Safer
Obfuscated and Carefully Buried: Pot is Safer... Safer than driving with no substances at all:Carefully buried twenty paragraphs in (about 4/5 of the way into the article where few will read; after a host of cherry-picked scare anecdotes), at long last, we find out what the mockingbird AP MSM seeks to bury, obfuscate, and generally confuse their readers about:
"When adjusted for alcohol and driver demographics, the study found that otherwise sober drivers who tested positive for marijuana were slightly less likely to have been involved in a crash than drivers who tested negative for all drugs."
They also failed to mention that total highways fatalities sink when pot is allowed (people substitute pot for booze, and pot is safer). Of course, readers of have been exposed to these "inconvenient" facts before. ("Inconvenient" to the prohibitionist police state's "crazed pot drivers" propaganda, that is.)
Australia: No Proof Cannabis Put Drivers At
Risk (2001) Cannabis May Make You A Safer Driver
University Of Toronto Study Shows MarijuanaPot Not A Factor In Driving Accidents (1999) Cannabis Crash Risk Less: Study
(1998) Study Goes to Pot (1998)
And again: such studies and facts are why NIDA exists. NIDA is a head 'em off at the pass bureaucracy to a) emphasize (with scientific veneer) the great harms of pot and b)to never fund a study that might again potentially show pot's benefits. NIDA also exists to make darn sure that even if some researcher somehow "gets one off" (NIDA or university funding for a study showing pot's benefits), despite all NIDA and other government fiefdom agencies do to prevent it, that, such a researcher be blacklisted from all future NIDA, and/or government research grants for any purpose, for ever and ever, amen. That is why most of those cannabis-benefit driving studies were not done on the USA: US Govt. blacklisting of the researchers and worse. Researchers aren't stupid and know this; they either completely cave and do the prohibitionists' bidding and get lots of grants, or they at least shut up and choose a non-pot area for study. You want to pull 100k with govt/university bennies; or you want to play hard-ball and not get funded, get audited, get NSAed and busted for a little pot as govt payback? Most US researchers buckled. Hopefully that will be changing (and NIDA will be de-funded and relegated to the dustbin of propaganda history, where belongeth it).
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Comment #1 posted by The GCW on September 01, 2014 at 07:42:20 PT

...said, Jonathan Adkins, executive director of Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state highway safety offices......AND THEIR UNIONS!Job security should not be used as a reason to continue caging responsible adults who choose to use cannabis.I'm no longer interested in what law enforcement agencies have to say regarding the relatively safe God-given plant cannabis. They have historically proven to be purveyors of lies, half-truths and propaganda not to mention their gravy addiction.
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