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.

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    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!

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    Will

    July 8, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    With respect to Ned Hoey et.al. 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.

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    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.

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