Campaigns against drinking and driving have made the practice socially unacceptable. But when it comes to certain drugs, experts say, we have a lot of catching up to do.
“The thing that’s the scariest is that people who are impaired with THC in their blood think they drive better,” said Heiki King, deputy administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
It’s a myth many believe, especially among young people, according to a survey done by the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. A 2018 report showed that more than half of 15 to 20 year olds who participated believed that using marijuana made them better drivers. Many also believe that using marijuana erases the effects of alcohol.
“That’s where the disconnects are, how do we change that culture?” WTSC Director Darrin Grondel asked.
The growing problem of drugged driving bringing leaders like King from Washington D.C. to Washington state. King met with local prosecutors, law enforcement and traffic safety experts. Washington state is the first leg of NHTSA’s journey to find best practices in dealing with the issue.
“The key problem we are seeing are growing across the nation is use of cannabis, of using marijuana, using hash oil,” King said. Using those drugs and driving, that is. King says we need to track better data and find best practices when it comes to dealing with drugs and driving.
WTSC says fatal crashes use to be down, that we were going in the right direction, but fatal crashes started to steadily increase in 2012. For example, 2011 there were 67 fatal crashes that involved alcohol and drugs and experts say that drug was most of the times marijuana. In 2016, we had 137 fatal crashes involving drugs and alcohol.
“Those who use cannabis, it doubles or quadruples crash risk; that may be a little lower than what the alcohol risk may be for crash risk, but it’s still dangerous,” Grondel said. That goes for any drugs, not just marijuana.
“Is it a direct result of legalization, that’s still a tough question to answer,” Grondel said.
Grondel says there is not enough empirical evidence to draw any direct correlation between legalization and the rise in fatal crashes. His main goal is to stop the trend and educate that any drugs or alcohol behind the wheel is unsafe. Grondel says as a society we need to treat drugs like alcohol. He says we need to be more aware of the signs of someone who is on drugs and try to intervene when anyone tries to get behind the wheel impaired.