In the United States, millions of people are driving high. Over the past 30 days alone, drivers in the United States have shared the roads with 14.8 million drivers who got behind the wheel within one hour of consuming marijuana. That’s according to new AAA Foundation research into the effects of marijuana legalization on traffic safety. AAA conducted a wide-ranging survey on marijuana use and driving habits, and the results reveal some interesting trends. Most people don’t think cops will catch motorists driving under the influence of cannabis, for example. And a small percentage of Americans even approve of driving after recent marijuana use. But law enforcement officials and traffic safety experts say the survey is proof positive that cannabis is making driving less safe.
14.8 Million Americans Drove High Last Month
A new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey is sounding the alarm over an uptick in Americans driving under the influence of marijuana. The survey shows that in the past 30 days, an estimated 14.8 million drivers self-reported operating a motor vehicle within one hour after using marijuana. The survey report also suggests that the perception that high drivers won’t get caught may be fueling the behavior. Nearly 70 percent of Americans think it’s unlikely police will catch a driver for driving high while on marijuana, according to the survey data.
The survey also found that millennials and men were the groups most likely to report driving within one hour after using marijuana. According to the data, nearly 14 percent of millennials reported driving high, with Gen Z coming in second place at 10 percent. Men were three percent more likely than women to report driving shortly after using marijuana.
Attitudes about driving under the influence of cannabis appear to be changing, too. AAA reports that 7 percent of Americans said they don’t disapprove of driving after recently consuming marijuana. Comparatively, approval ratings plummet to 1.6 percent for alcohol-impaired driving, 1.7 percent for drowsy driving and 3 percent for prescription drug-impaired driving.
AAA Report Fuels Narrative that Legalization Makes Roads Less Safe
The AAA report comes at a time when the expansion of marijuana legalization in the United States is accelerating. And concerns about the risks legal weed poses to traffic safety have been perennial talking points for opponents of legalization. Yet evidence that legal weed makes driving more dangerous for both marijuana consumers and non-consumers has been hard to come by.
Instead, traffic safety officials and law enforcement agencies produce other statistics to feed the narrative that legal marijuana is a threat to drivers. What is true is that police are upping their efforts to catch drivers under the influence of cannabis. The higher arrest rates for driving under the influence of marijuana then become evidence to support the case that legalization means more people are driving high. At the same time, traffic safety officials collect data about automobile accident rates and blood tests to support claims that marijuana users are more likely to be involved in a crash.
The problem with those statistics, however, is that they rely on unfounded associations between the presence of THC in someone’s system and their level of “intoxication”—how under the influence they are. Multiple studies—and dismissed criminal cases—attest to the difficulty of determining how cannabis influences cognition and motor skills based on the presence of cannabinoids in the body. Even AAA’s own safety foundation found no scientific basis that THC in the blood impairs driving.
Law Enforcement Upping Efforts to Clamp Down on High Driving
Despite the science, however, law enforcement agencies are making major investments in clamping down on cannabis and driving. There are currently more than 87,000 Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement trained officers patrolling US roads, in addition to 8,300 Drug Evaluation and Classification trained officers. Tellingly, as the number of drug recognition experts (DREs) increases, so are the drivers being arrested by them. There are today 30 percent more drug recognition experts on US police forces than there were in 2013. Since 2015, the number of drivers DRE officers have arrests has increased 20 percent.