ENID, Okla. — With marijuana consumption rising in the state and region, AAA Oklahoma and state law enforcement are warning motorists of the dangerous impact it poses for driving safety.
A new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey reveals nearly 70% of Americans think it’s unlikely a driver will get caught by police for driving while high on marijuana. An estimated 14.8 million Americans report driving within one hour after using marijuana in the past 30 days.
The most impairing effects of marijuana are usually experienced within the first one to four hours after using the drug. Marijuana users who drive high are up to twice as likely to be involved in a crash.
“Marijuana can significantly alter reaction times and impair drivers’ judgement that puts themselves and others at great risk. Yet, many drivers don’t consider it as unacceptable as behaviors like driving drunk or talking on the phone while driving,” said Leslie Gamble, AAA Oklahoma public and government affairs manager. “Everyone should understand that driving after recently using marijuana begs tragedy.”
In the AAA Foundation survey, 7% of Americans reported they approved of driving after recently using marijuana — more than other dangerous behaviors such as alcohol-impaired driving (1.6%), drowsy driving (1.7%) and prescription drug-impaired driving (3%). Other survey findings show that:
• Millennials (nearly 14%) are most likely to report driving within one hour after using marijuana in the past 30 days, followed by Generation Z (10%).
• Men (8%) are more likely than women (5%) to report driving shortly after using marijuana in the past 30 days.
“With the law and cultural changes and acceptance of marijuana for medical, and often recreational use, we are seeing more cases of impaired driving involving marijuana and THC-based products,” said Enid Police Department Lt. Eric Holtzclaw. “We need to educate the public of the facts that impairment from using marijuana and THC-based products even after the buzz feeling has left, after use. Many feel they are fine to drive soon after using these drugs, but the impairment can continue or even return based on the individual’s medical conditions.
“We have to get the word out that it is just as dangerous as drinking and driving. Just as deadly,” he said. “It is not OK to drive after smoking marijuana, medical card or not. Just like it is not OK to take prescription medications and drive when the warnings indicated to not operate machinery.”
Programs such as the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and the Drug Evaluation and Classification (DEC) Program were developed to train law enforcement officers around the country to more effectively recognize drug-impaired driving.
State law officers are receiving training to prepare for expected increases in drivers’ under-the-influence of marijuana — and often alcohol and other drugs as well — that may ignore warnings and hit the roads.
“The fact is any driver who gets behind the wheel high can be arrested and prosecuted,” said Gamble. “Law enforcement officials are getting more sophisticated in their methods for identifying marijuana-impaired drivers and the consequences are not worth the risk. Arrests for marijuana-impaired driving have increased 20% across the nation since 2015.
Oklahoma has more than 3,200 ARIDE and DECP-trained officers, part of more than 87,000 ARIDE and 10,200 DECP-trained officers patrolling U.S. roads. Additionally, the number of trained Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) in Oklahoma now number 180, with a national increase in forces of 30% since 2013. These officers report that marijuana is the most frequently identified drug category.
“The Enid Police Department has recently updated all patrol and traffic officers with the newest 2018 NTSA training standards for SFST methods and included were the drug recognition of impairment from cannabis, and related drugs, and the new medical marijuana laws,” Holtzclaw said.
“In addition, many EPD officers have received the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement training, which is a bridge training between the SFST level and a Drug Recognition Expert.”
The lieutenant said more must be done to aid officers in detecting use of impairing substances in the field.
“We must do more. Law enforcement needs to work toward developing scientific instruments and tools to detect cannabis and other drug use that can be used in the field and aid law enforcement in detecting impaired drivers,” he said. “Oklahoma laws should be stronger to deter repeat offenders and deter impaired drivers.
“We all utilize the roadways and driving is a privilege, not a constitutional right. Everyone should be concerned about the growing dangers of impaired drivers who have medicated themselves with cannabis or other drugs — legally prescribed or not,” Holtzclaw said. “We need to educate everyone on how dangerous it is to use drugs and marijuana and then drive. It can be deadly.”
The new survey results are part of the AAA Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index, which identifies attitudes and behaviors related to traffic safety. The survey data are from a sample of 2,582 licensed drivers ages 16 and older who reported driving in the past 30 days.
The AAA Foundation issued its first Traffic Safety Culture Index in 2008, and the latest report is online at www.aaafoundation.org.