The Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) recently published a report that found the number of fatal motor vehicle accidents where the driver tested positive for cannabis has increased over the past year. The state’s latest statistics indicate that fatal accidents involving motorists testing positive for THC have gone up nearly 50 percent between 2013 and 2014. This, of course, has caused anti-pot organizations to come crawling out of the woodwork with a message of “we told you so” to anyone willing to listen, doing their best to drive home the skewed point-of-view that cannabis legalization should be considered a detriment to public safety.
“It’s unfortunate that marijuana is playing a bigger role in deadly crashes in Washington,” said Wilma Comenat of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
However, while there may have been more fatal crashes documented where toxicology results reveal that the driver had at some point consumed cannabis, there is no way of proving that these accidents were primarily attributed to marijuana. Despite the WTSC’s finding that 85 percent of the drivers involved in these deadly car crashes were discovered to have THC in their system, it’s impossible to determine whether cannabis actually played a role in the accidents. This is because some of the individuals could have smoked marijuana days – even a month – before the crash and a coroner still would have discovered THC in the driver’s blood.
As we learned earlier this year in a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Drug tests do not necessarily indicate current impairment,” because “detectable blood levels may persist beyond the impairing effects.”
Although the WTSC data suggests that three quarters of the crashed motorists registered THC levels of at least 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood (the state’s gauge for impairment) at the time of their death, regular cannabis users can easily display the state limit without being intoxicated. Medical marijuana patients, for example, who consume cannabis on a regular basis, can conceivably test positive for THC intoxication even during a time when weed has not been consumed. Therefore, it stands to reason that some of the stoner motorists along Washington’s roadways were not actually high at the time of the crash. This is even truer for those found with less than 5 nanograms in their system.
The issue becomes more confounded since alcohol and other drugs were also detected. The report finds that around 50 percent of the drivers who had cannabis in their blood stream were also legally drunk at the time of the crash. Even considering the high tolerance of the most experienced drinker, and much unlike the scenario with THC, alcohol intoxication registers the real-time effects of booze on an individual. Essentially, driving drunk, at least by the standards of the state, means that a person is intoxicated behind the wheel. Whereas, operating a vehicle legally stoned does not necessarily mean that a person just finished burning a hog’s leg before going out on a four-wheeled adventure.
Ultimately, the state cannot pin any of these motor vehicle deaths on cannabis alone because there are simply too many other factors at work. Again, the presence of alcohol in half the cases is pretty good argument that responsible cannabis consumption did not play a role in the states’ increase in highway tragedy. Furthermore, it could be argued that marijuana may have been more prevalent this year due to the recent implementation of legal sales in Washington.
In the end, there needs to be more research and comparative studies done before any state can say without a doubt that legal cannabis contributes to an increase in motor vehicle deaths.
What do you think? Does cannabis cause accidents on the roadway?