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Marijuana more prevalent in fatal crashes after legalization, AAA study finds

(Photo by Raul ARBOLEDA /AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo by Raul ARBOLEDA /AFP/Getty Images) (CNN)

TAMPA, Fla – A recent study finds an increase in the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes that were positive for THC.

AAA Foundation research looked at crash reports during 2008 and 2012 in Washington, before marijuana was legal. During that time frame, an estimated 8.8% of Washington drivers involved in fatal crashes were positive for THC. After legalization, that rate rose to 18% between 2013 and 2017.

The average number of THC-positive drivers increased, too. In the five years before legalization, an average of 56 drivers involved in fatal crashes each year were THC-positive. In the five years after legalization, the average jumped to 130. The new numbers bolster the findings of a similar report the AAA Foundation released in 2016. The study did not attempt to determine if marijuana contributed to the crashes included in its latest research. It focused only on the prevalence of drivers who tested positive for active THC.

“This study enabled us to review a full 10-years’ worth of data about the potential impact of marijuana on driving safety – and it raises significant concerns. Results from the analysis suggest that the legalization of recreational use of marijuana may increase the rate of THC-positive drivers involved in fatal crashes,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Dangers of Marijuana-Impaired Driving

Marijuana use can inhibit concentration, slow reaction times and cloud judgment. Its effects vary by individual, but several studies have concluded that marijuana use impairs the ability to drive safely. Previous research suggests that users who drive high are up to twice as likely to be involved in a crash.

Legalization of Marijuana

Eleven states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana for both recreational and medical use. Another 22 states have legalized it for medical use only. State legislative sessions for 2020 are getting underway and recreational use is expected to be a popular topic. The legislative interest combined with likely November ballot measures could result in additional states taking a hard look at the issue.

Last year, a Foundation survey found:

• Nearly 70% of Americans think it’s unlikely a driver will get caught by police for driving shortly after using marijuana.

• An estimated 14.8 million drivers report getting behind the wheel within one hour after using marijuana in the past 30 days.