Please, don’t toke and drive

It’s probably not a surprise that marijuana use is being found more often among drivers who are involved in fatal accidents.

Following voters’ legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012 and the opening of the first retail cannabis shops last summer, that increase in use appears to have found its way onto our roads.

Data from the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission shows a 48 percent increase in fatal accidents in which drivers tested positive for marijuana use. Statewide, of 429 fatal accidents in 2014, causing 462 deaths, 207 involved drivers who were impaired by alcohol, drugs or both and 86 involved drivers who tested positive for marijuana. For the year previous, of 401 fatal accidents and 436 deaths there were again 207 impaired drivers, and 58 drivers tested positive for marijuana. Prior to 2013 that number fluctuated but had not seen an increase similar to that shown in 2014.

A few points need to be made about the safety commission’s numbers: Testing positive doesn’t distinguish between active and inactive THC in the blood, meaning the driver may or may not have been impaired by marijuana use at the time of the accident. And the numbers don’t break down those marijuana users who were or weren’t impaired by alcohol. Nor were there statistics available on drivers using marijuana who were involved in accidents that involved injuries.

While the marijuana use is concerning, driver impairment because of alcohol remains a much larger and deadlier problem. However, the numbers do reflect an increase last year in the number of people who are smoking marijuana and are then involved in fatal accidents.

It’s an expected result of legalizing marijuana, but it’s not an acceptable one.

Efforts to combat drunken driving, including tougher penalties and public education campaigns have shown success. Again the numbers bear that out. The number of fatal accidents caused by drunken drivers statewide declined from a high of 169 in 2009 to 102 last year. In the first three months of this year, there were 17 fatal accidents involving drunken drivers.

What has worked to fight drunken driving should also work to dissuade driving under marijuana’s effects. The penalties for driving under the influence are the same whether its alcohol, marijuana or any another drug. The state, since 2012 has said drivers are impaired if they have a blood level of .05 nanograms or greater of THC.

Public campaigns already are underway. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Ad Council draw the comparison directly with their “Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving” campaign and ask drivers to sign a pledge on their website.

Just as they are when using alcohol, personal responsibility and some self-knowledge are the best tools for those who use marijuana. According to a NHTSA fact sheet, the effects of cannabis are felt within a few minutes and reach their peak within 10 to 30 minutes. The high from marijuana can last about two hours, but its effects on alertness and reaction time — the skills a driver relies on — don’t return to baseline levels for three to five hours. And using alcohol in combination with marijuana increases the level of impairment.

Washington voters made the choice to equate marijuana with alcohol as a substance that adults should legally be able to enjoy. But it was with the understanding that we would do so responsibly.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

The COVID-19 ward at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett in May 2020. (Andy Bronson / Herald file) 20200519
Editorial: Nurses and hospitals need our care, support now

The pandemic has taken a toll on Providence and its nurses. Changes are needed to restore all.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Monday, Aug. 15

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Melinda Parke sits inside her Days Inn motel room as her son, Elijah, sleeps on his chair behind her Wednesday, April 20, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Editorial: Purchase of hotel as shelter can be effective tool

The county’s investment of federal aid will serve those who need shelter and supportive services.

Teresa Reynolds sits exhausted as members of her community clean the debris from their flood ravaged homes at Ogden Hollar in Hindman, Ky., Saturday, July 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Editorial: How many billion-dollar disasters will it take?

A tally of climate disasters shows an ever-increasing toll of costs and lives. Congress must act.

A group of Volunteers of America crisis counselors and workers meet with Gov. Jay Inslee, left, after the governor toured their facility and gave a brief address about mental health services on Thursday, July 28, 2022, outside the VOA Behavioral Health Crisis Call Center in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Editorial: Our support makes sure lifeline is there in crises

The new 988 crisis line is seeing an increase in calls that speaks to the need for mental health care.

Burke: What sorcery was used to get people to buy Big Lie?

Want to keep He Who Must Not Be Named and his Dementors out of office? Use your magic ballot.

Saunders: It’s a bad look, but Trump was right to invoke Fifth

The man who once said only the Mob takes the Fifth, wised up to avoid the possibility of perjury.

Comment: Monkeypox isn’t covid, but we’re making same mistakes

We’re too focused on rumors — and ourselves — to concentrate a response on those most at risk.

Comment: Trump’s worst enemies were his subservient ‘yes men’

Whether generals or chiefs of staff, Trump needed to hear a range of opinion, not an echo of himself.

Most Read