A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found a majority of Americans think it’s “unlikely a driver will get caught by police for driving while high on marijuana,” among other findings.
The AAA study shows that a large population in the United States finds driving while under the influence of marijuana to be “very or extremely dangerous” but also estimates 14.8 million Americans got behind the wheel within one hour after smoking it in the past 30 days.
The information comes from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s 2018 Traffic Safety Culture Index, which is a sampling of about 2,500 licensed drivers in the U.S. who are 16 years old or older and who have reported driving at least once in the past 30 days. The study covers issues related to driving such as distracted driving, speeding and driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
When asked about how dangerous it is to drive within an hour after ingesting marijuana, 70 percent of respondents said they consider it “very or extremely” dangerous. They are not alone in their thinking. Marijuana users who drive high are twice as likely to be involved in a crash, according to the AAA news release and Sam Cole, traffic safety communications manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation.
There were 52 cannabis-involved fatalities in Colorado in 2016 and 35 in 2017, according to a report released by CDOT.
Between Jan. 1, 2018, and June 20, 2019, there were 17 incidents of driving under the influence of drugs with nine involving marijuana in Durango, according to data provided by the Durango Police Department. The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office made nine arrests for driving under the influence of drugs between Jan. 1, 2018, and June 25, 2019.
But upon initial review, it was not immediately apparent how many of those involved marijuana.
An open records request to the Colorado State Patrol Central Records Unit shows there were 61 citations given for driving while under the influence of marijuana between Jan. 1, 2018, and June 25, 2019, in La Plata County. Of these 61 citations 40 people were arrested.
“Marijuana can significantly alter reaction times and impair a driver’s judgment. Yet, many drivers don’t consider marijuana-impaired driving as risky as other behaviors like driving drunk or talking on the phone while driving,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, in a news release.
The study found that 14% of the millennial generation report driving within one hour of using marijuana followed by 10% of Generation Z drivers.
According to the study, the impairing effects of marijuana are usually experienced one to four hours after taking the drug.
Driving under the influence of cannabis not only puts drivers at risk of injury, but it can also lead to criminal and administrative penalties.
Much like drinking and driving, the amount of marijuana a driver can ingest before driving is limited.
The legal limit of active THC in a driver’s blood is 5 nanograms in their whole blood. Only active forms of THC such as delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9) have the ability to cause impairment, according to the CDOT website. People who are “less than weekly” users exhibit meaningful driving impairment even with THC levels of 2 to 5 nanograms.
The study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found nearly 70 percent of Americans think it’s unlikely a driver will get caught by police for driving under the influence of marijuana.
All drivers with a Colorado license give “express consent” when they sign the paperwork for the license, meaning if a law enforcement officer pulls them over and asks them to submit to a chemical test, drivers must comply or have their license automatically revoked.
This testing occurs at a medical facility with a trained phlebotomist, but there are also roadside tests officers are trained to conduct.
Durango police Cmdr. Ray Shupe said about 70 percent of DPD patrol officers are trained in advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement. ARIDE is a training offered to law enforcement officers nationwide that bridges the gap between standard field sobriety testing and the drug evaluation and classification program, according to the CDOT website. The program bridges the gap by giving officers a general knowledge related to drug impairment.
As of March, there were 5,592 active SFST operators, 1,460 active ARIDE certificate holders and 198 active drug recognition experts in Colorado, according to a report released by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice of the Department of Public Safety.
“It’s time to face the facts: Any driver who gets behind the wheel high can be arrested and prosecuted,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director of Traffic Safety and Advocacy in a news release. “Law enforcement officials are getting more sophisticated in their methods for identifying marijuana-impaired drivers and the consequences are not worth the risk.”