Decriminalization of Marijuana and Potential Impact on CMV Drivers

Captain Darrin Grondel is the Director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and a Captain with the Washington State Patrol. At the 2016 Commercial Vehicle Safety Research Summit, Captain Grondel discussed drugged driving and its impact on traffic safety. The following are some highlights of Captain Grondel’s presentation.

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As marijuana becomes legal for recreational use across the country, transportation safety stakeholders grapple with the realities and challenges inherent in the new legislation. Currently, the possession and use laws in the U.S. are described as a patchwork, as their look and structure remain very different, depending on the state.

What’s more, the strength of marijuana has changed dramatically over the last several decades. While most governmental studies involving marijuana involve THC levels of 3-6%, the substances now showing up in a variety of forms (oils, edibles, vaping) have THC levels closer to 30-40%.  While many issues around legalization of marijuana remain unclear, what we do know is that incidences of drugged driving are going up, and must be mitigated.

The overarching issue around legalization of marijuana remains the existing knowledge gap around the effects of cannabis (and other drugs) on driving. One reason for this gap is a complete lack of data around drugged driving; including crash and inspection data, and information about the types of drugs being used, and in which combinations.

Another major issue is public indifference. Drivers tend to see drunk driving as clearly dangerous and socially unacceptable, but don’t feel strongly one way or the other about drugged driving. Many people don’t know the level at which drugs impair them, and haven’t been educated about the dangers of driving while taking something as benign-seeming as cough medicine. The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation conducted the PIRE Roadside Survey in 2014 and 2015, where they surveyed 926 drivers in 5 counties. Of drivers who said they’d used marijuana within two hours of driving, 67% said that it made no difference in their driving. Knowing what we do about the effects of THC on the brain, it seems unlikely that drivers would be unaffected.

What remains clear is that drugged driving is much more complicated than drunk driving, and that these types of crashes are on an upward trend. Less clear, are the details around how drivers are affected, how long those effects last and how police will know a drugged driver when they see one.

Summary by: Kathryn Slater, UMTC Research

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