A new study by the AAA Foundation found that nationwide nearly 15 million Americans admit to driving within an hour of smoking marijuana, and the group is concerned that motorists don’t take getting behind the wheel after using the drug as seriously as they do other forms of impaired driving.
“People don’t think that using marijuana within an hour of driving is as risky as some other behaviors like driving while distracted, using alcohol, or even drowsy driving,” AAA spokesperson Beth Mosher said.
The growing concern comes as an increasing number of states, including Illinois, legalize recreational marijuana. Laws are on the books to criminalize driving while under the influence of the substance, but many don’t go far enough, according to some addition specialists.
“Evidence has shown that there are still impairments in memory, in retention of information, in reaction time, and these effects can last hours, and maybe even days after the use of marijuana,” Rush addiction specialist Dr. Jenna Nikolaides said.
Despite the high number of people who have admitted to driving shortly after using marijuana, other numbers may paint a different picture. Recent studies into more than a million traffic fatalities between 1985 and 2014 have shown that in states that have legalized marijuana, traffic fatalities have dropped by 12 percent in the group of people most likely to use the substance.
Even still, most people say they would never think about lighting up and sliding behind the wheel after marijuana becomes legal in 2020.
“You’re still impaired, aren’t you?” Tim Murphy said. “That’s all that matters. You’re still impaired.”
AAA agrees, and is urging residents to be careful when they decide to indulge in the newly-legal substance.
“Because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s legal to drive while high,” Mosher said.