New AAA survey finds 14.8 million American drivers have driven stoned

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There’s no denying that Americans have grown more casual with their marijuana use in recent years. Maybe a bit too casual.

That’s the takeaway from new research in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety survey, which found that almost 70 percent of Americans believe it is unlikely for a driver to get busted by the cops while high on marijuana. AAA also offered up what it called another “alarming finding” in its research: roughly 14.8 million drivers have gotten behind the wheel within an hour of using pot in the last 30 days.

Dr. David Yang, Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, sounded the alarm in a statement Wednesday, saying that “[m]arijuana can significantly alter reaction times and impair a driver’s judgment.” AAA noted in the study’s release that “marijuana users who drive high are up to twice as likely to be involved in a crash.”

Yang said that “many drivers don’t consider marijuana-impaired driving as risky as other behaviors like driving drunk or talking on the phone while driving.” “It is important for everyone to understand that driving after recently using marijuana can put themselves and others at risk,” Yang said.

As states and cities across the country have abolished prohibitions against recreational pot use, there has remained a steady chorus who have raised public safety concerns—namely the increased prospect of individuals driving while under the influence of marijuana. Both Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize recreational pot use in the U.S., have strict DUI laws that cover both alcohol and THC. In Washington, an individual who “has, within two hours after driving, a THC concentration of 5.00 or higher” can be charged with DUI; in Colorado, the law applies to drivers “with five nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their whole blood,” though officers can make arrests on the basis of their own observations.

Jake Nelson, AAA Director of Traffic Safety and Advocacy, said that “law enforcement officials are getting more sophisticated in their methods for identifying marijuana-impaired drivers and the consequences are not worth the risk.”

The AAA survey found that seven percent of Americans approved of driving while under the influence of marijuana — a small percentage to be sure, but much larger than the number of individuals who approve of driving while drunk on alcohol or drowsy, both of which fell under two percent. Similarly, only three percent said they approve of driving while impaired by prescription drugs. Marijuana is widely considered safer than alcohol and many prescription drugs, but AAA has emphasized that it remains dangers to get behind the wheel after using it. And although it’s legal status has changed across the country, the punishment for DUI remains strict as ever.

“It’s time to face the facts,” Nelson said. “Any driver who gets behind the wheel high can be arrested and prosecuted.”

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