Fatal accidents involving stoned drivers have soared in the state of Washington since marijuana was legalized, according to a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. But it’s difficult to determine whether a high-on-pot driver is too impaired to drive, according to a separate study from the same group.
Fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana more than doubled in 2014. Pot was involved in 17% of fatal crashes in Washington in 2014, up from 8% in 2013 — the year before recreational marijuana was allowed there.
But coming up with a test to get impaired drivers off the road will be far more difficult than the blood alcohol tests used to test for drunk drivers, according to the group. While tests show the ability to drive gets worse as blood alcohol rises, laboratory studies show the same is not necessarily true with increased levels of THC, the main chemical component in marijuana, in the blood. One driver with high levels of THC might not be impaired, while another driver with very low levels can be impaired.
AAA said the key result of the studies are that it’s important that drivers be aware that marijuana can greatly impair driving ability. Another problem with testing for THC is that it requires a blood test, which can take up to two hours to be administered. That’s much longer than the roadside breath tests used to test blood alcohol levels. And THC levels can decline significantly in those two hours, making results suspect.
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