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Drivers High on Marijuana Are an Unrecognized Crisis, Experts Say


Drivers high on marijuana represent an unrecognized crisis, experts tell the Los Angeles Times. A 2009 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), based on blood, breath and saliva tests collected on weekends from drivers in 300 locations nationally, found that 16.3 percent of drivers at night were impaired from legal or illegal drugs, including 9 percent of drivers who had detectable traces of marijuana in their system.

The article notes that in California, almost 1,000 deaths and injuries annually are due to drugged drivers. Law enforcement officials point to the increased use of medical marijuana as part of the problem. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the newspaper, “Marijuana is a significant and important contributing factor in a growing number of fatal accidents. There is no question, not only from the data but from what I have heard in my career as a law enforcement officer.”

There is no national standard on how much marijuana drivers should be allowed to have in their blood, the article notes. Thirteen states have zero-tolerance laws, while 35 states do not have a formal standard. These states instead rely on police to determine if a driver is impaired.

Jeffrey P. Michael, the NHTSA’s Director of the Office of Impaired Driving, acknowledged that it is not known what level of marijuana causes impairment in drivers.

To help answer this question, one study in Virginia Beach, VA, is using teams of federal researchers to ask drivers at accident scenes to voluntarily provide blood samples. They then return at another time to the same location at the same time and day of the week, and ask two random drivers who are not involved in accidents for blood samples.

The goal of the project is to determine whether drivers with specific levels of drugs in their blood are more likely to be involved in a crash than drivers without the drugs.

16 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Brian
    Brian / July 11, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    I nearly lost my wife to a driver (who ran a red light and t-boned her), that had high levels of active THC in his system. We found Utah had no good way to prosecute this as a DUI. He was instead charged with possession. A charge that did not impact his driving record at all. He continued on with 3 other DUI’s that year. I attribute this to the lack of prosecution on the first. Anyway, we need a way to prosecute legal (medical, alcohol, prescribed, otc…) or illegal drugs as DUI’s. If its a problem in Utah, I can’t imagine what the problem is like in areas with higher usage. This is not a question of making medical MJ illegal – its a matter of keeping our roads safe!

  2. Avatar of Will
    Will / July 8, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    With respect to Ned Hoey there are many difference between alcohol and marijuana that can make the latter more unsafe. Where alcohol has a standard measurement marijuana can be all over the spectrum in strength. We are seeing teens overdose, yes overdose on “medical” marijuana. The potency has increased significantly over the past decade. And just like alcohol, it is a drug that masks the true impairment level to the user. If we have some intellectual honesty let’s think about it; why would we use any “drug” if it did not impair us in some way? This impairment may be fine if you are sitting on your sofa watching TV but a soon as you begin to multitask (drive) any level of impairment is likely to surface.
    Cell phone use is another example. Hands free or not there is a significant impairment. We should not point to other bad habits that cause impairment, citing them as worse, just to justify that ours is not as bad.

  3. Avatar of Julian
    Julian / July 6, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    The article states “A 2009 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), based on blood, breath and saliva tests collected on weekends from drivers in 300 locations nationally, found that 16.3 percent of drivers at night were impaired from legal or illegal drugs, including 9 percent of drivers who had detectable traces of marijuana in their system.” This isn’t an attack against the use of marijuana. It is stating that people use and then get behind the wheel. Like the old ads said “if you drink don’t drive” just change it to “if you drug don’t drive”. Simple.

  4. Avatar of michael ruce
    michael ruce / July 6, 2011 at 8:54 am

    bull, they just keep trying to make pot look bad. I took my drivers test to get my license in 1977after smokin a bowl of hash and I received an Excellent. 34 years later not one moving violation or accident. just like vicodin or xanax it says use care when operating a car or operating dangerous machinery. pots here it’s safer than anything else out there. most of the population know’s but are afraid to speak up. like Bob Marley said get up stand up, stand up for your rights. legalize responsible use!!! And stop the witch hunt. all you anti pot propaganda is the same as hitler used to brain wash the masses. stop lying to the kids seperate pot from the bad ,dangerous drugs and give them a safer place to go.

  5. Avatar of wake up 101
    wake up 101 / July 6, 2011 at 8:49 am

    It really doen not matter which substance is in question, drugs are drugs legal or illegal they all cause an individual judgement to become impaired.

  6. Steve Westen / July 6, 2011 at 8:33 am

    What a fluffed-out propaganda piece. The “facts” in this article fall solely on “detectable traces” of amounts of marijuana in someones system… meaning those people have smoked in the past 30 days. There are articles out there that claim th eopposite, in that regular medical marijuana users were not greatly effected by the use of their medication. Plus lets focus on that fact, its a medication. Do we have road tests for opiates or benzodiazepines, xanax, NO! And those drugs are way more dangerous for you to drive or do anything on than cannabis is. The fact that, any mood/mind altering substance will affect a persons driving to some extent. But using propganda to try and propel the US War on Drugs is ridiulous and a low-blow. Also, as for Colorado. That bill got shot down and smashed into the ground, after they tried saying anyone with a .5nano/gram limit is intoxicated. Then a MMJ reviewer went to a doctor after not ingesting cannabis for 18hours and being medically signed off as sober, he then tested at 3 times the cutoff limit; proving their whole wanting to put a limit on the blood level of a cannabis user is un-measureable. Plus, people have been smoking cannabis for over 40 years on a daily basis and drive. I don’t agree with people using cannabis and driving, but this article is just ridiulous, how about doing actual science instead of anecdotal, propoganda lies.

  7. Avatar of Michael Chenkin
    Michael Chenkin / July 6, 2011 at 7:11 am

    From this article, it’s unclear what role, if any, being under the influence of marijuana played in these accidents. Seems that there is probably some percentage of drivers who have an accident within an hour of drinking water, eating a hamburger, having sex, etc. Would we conclude that these behaviors played a role in motor vehicle crashes? I think the title of this article is misleading: no “experts” are cited, except perhaps the person from NHTSA who is quoted as saying that “it is not known what level of marijuana causes impairment in drivers”. And the design of the Virginia Beach study in the article seems feeble. If this website wants to be viewed as credible, I think more discretion is needed for what content appears on it.

  8. joebanana / July 6, 2011 at 4:53 am

    Studies have shown that people that smoke cannabis and drive actually drive slower, and more cautiously. And there is no way of “setting” a BAL because it doesn’t impair perception, balance, vision, hand/eye coordination, or judgement. Quit spreading false information. Just like the government, they lie so much, everything they say is considered a lie, Obama doesn’t know what truth is. Our government is setting a bad example for my children, I teach them lying is bad, then Obama opens his mouth.

  9. Avatar of Adjutant
    Adjutant / July 6, 2011 at 2:07 am

    they have no data on pot deaths because there is not enough to even count.I wish our government would stop giving false info to the public. pot users are not crashing their cars and running into cops, that is what drivers on booze and vicodan do. those who show no mercy will be shown none. God is going to deal with the world governments for the evil they do. remember, they have their reward in this life

  10. Avatar of Ned Hoey
    Ned Hoey / July 6, 2011 at 12:24 am

    There is so much wrong with this. Where to begin? The first thing is that this is a scare mongering tactic designed to make voters fearful of legalized marijuana. The facts are that marijuana’s effect are totally different from alcohol, for example. Different drugs have markedly different effects, both on users of various tolerances, dosages and time of use but also in just how they might impair. Anyone who equates cannabis use and it’s potential for driving impairment with alcohol is either innocently ignorant or pushing an agenda motivated by something other than cannabis’s actual effects. Cannabis prohibition has not succeeded in preventing widespread use throughout the US for the past 40+ years. If you think drivers with cannabis in their system is a suddenly recent phenomenon, I’ve got news for you, it isn’t. The sudden alarm about this has far less to do with the actual threat of cannabis impaired drivers than with the political battle to end the failed prohibition of cannabis that has continued to grow. Illegality doesn’t make us safer, it just allows state backed persecution of those who choose to use something other alcohol for relaxation. Something actually less dangerous and toxic that alcohol.

  11. Avatar of Clean and Sober
    Clean and Sober / July 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    This is an effort by law enforcement to put marijuana users in constant legal jeopardy and continue spending money where it is least effective: jailing users.The article says “drugged” drivers caused 1000 deaths in California, but conveniently leaves out which drugs were involved. Alcohol is still the mostly prolificly abused drug in the US and contributes to many more highway fatalities than pot. Treatment works, why not spend more money on that instead of putting people in jails?

  12. Avatar of Peter
    Peter / July 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Interesting, I thought I heard on the radio that Colorado is exploring standards for testing drivers for MJ. It makes perfect sense and I’m in favor of regulation and enforcement policies similar to alcohol.

  13. Avatar of Mike Gimbel
    Mike Gimbel / July 5, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    What a surprise. What do we do with all the stoned drivers, people coming to work stoned, kids going to school stoned ? I forgot they are all so ill they needed pot. We get what we deserve. Its only a matter of time untill a family is wiped out by a stoned driver and than we will regret making it so easily available. I am a recovering addict with 39 yrs. of sobriety, so I know what its like to drive stoned and or drunk. Either drug makes you a danger to others.

  14. Avatar of Jennifer
    Jennifer / July 5, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    It’s just as dangerous as driving drunk its not any different. So according to what you’re saying we should outlaw alcohol as well? Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying its a good thing to drink/use and drive, but I don’t think it should be illegal just in the same sense that alcohol isn’t illegal. People either use it responsibly or not.

  15. Avatar of Gordon
    Gordon / July 7, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Reaseach on the subject supports Ned Hoey’s response. The knee-jerk reaction to newspaper articles such as this one, that are misleading and unspecific as to the true conditions they are refering to, are an impediment to getting issues such as this one corrected.

  16. Jennifer / July 5, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Couldn’t agree more Clean and Sober.

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