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Users of both alcohol, marijuana take more risks behind the wheel

driving while texting
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People who use both alcohol and marijuana are significantly more likely to speed, text, intentionally run red lights, and drive aggressively than those who don’t, according to data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

They also are far more likely to report driving under the influence of alcohol than those who consume only alcohol and not marijuana.

“These data show the alarming impact of alcohol and marijuana use on the choices drivers make when they get behind the wheel,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research. “From choosing to drive while impaired, and speeding, to driving distracted or running red lights, using these two drugs leads to poor decision-making with potentially fatal consequences.”

In Virginia, as it has across the country, AAA opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana this year because of its inherent traffic safety risks and the difficulties in writing legislation that protects the public and treats drivers fairly.

While the measure passed, AAA successfully lobbied for dedicated funding for public education campaigns on the dangers of driving while high and for desperately needed Drug Recognition Experts training for law enforcement officers.

As there is no chemical test for cannabis impairment, highly trained DREs determine a driver’s level of impairment at the roadside.

The General Assembly appropriated funds to provide $1M in state funding for DRE training and $1M in state funding for public education campaigns in FY2021-2022. Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has shown that both public education and an adequate number of DREs are critical to address the dangers associated with marijuana impaired drivers.

Through AAA Foundation research, AAA is working to improve understanding of the topic and work collaboratively with safety stakeholders to reduce the impact of substance-impaired driving-related crashes.

According to government data, alcohol and marijuana are the most widely used drugs in the United States – 139.8 million people aged 12 or older reported drinking alcohol in the past month, and 43.5 million reported using marijuana in the past year.

Further normalizing this behavior, in 2021, New York became the 16th and Virginia the 17th state to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Elsewhere, at least 14 other state legislatures are considering medical or adult-use marijuana legalization bills in 2021.

The AAA Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index found that drivers who use both marijuana and alcohol were significantly more prone to driving under the influence of alcohol (Table 1) versus those who only drink alcohol but do not use marijuana.

These motorists identified as someone who consumed alcohol and used marijuana in the past 30 days, and in some cases, they may have used both at the same time. They also engage in various other dangerous driving behaviors far more than drivers who consume either just alcohol or abstain from either drinking alcohol or using marijuana.

Compared to alcohol-only users, drivers who admitted to using both were more likely to report such behaviors as:

  • Speeding on residential streets (55%) vs. alcohol-only (35%)
  • Aggressive driving (52%) vs. alcohol-only (28%)
  • Intentional red-light running (48%) vs alcohol-only (32%)
  • Texting while driving (40%) vs. alcohol-only (21%)

Unsurprisingly, the study found drivers who neither drink alcohol nor use marijuana were considerably less likely to engage in the sorts of risky driving behaviors examined. This Foundation research was published in January 2021 in the peer-reviewed journal Transportation Research Record. (See abstract)

“With 4/20 approaching, it’s worth noting that marijuana use can inhibit concentration, slow reaction times, and cloud judgment. Its effects vary by individual, but several studies, including one that AAA released in 2020, have concluded that marijuana use impairs the ability to drive safely,” Nelson said.


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