As more fatal crash drivers use cannabis, a new report offers a safety playbook

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Cannabis usage is on the rise in the United States, and more drivers involved in fatal accidents tested positive for cannabis use behind the wheel during the epidemic. A new report intends to assist governments in communicating with motorists on safe driving more effectively. The research, released on Tuesday by the Governors Highway Safety Association, Responsibility.org, and the National Alliance to Stop Impaired Driving, provides guidelines regarding effective and ineffective communications and emphasizes the need for more effective public outreach and education.

“As legal cannabis use becomes more widespread in the U.S., motorists need to know the dangers of driving under the influence,” Jonathan Adkins, Governors Highway Safety Association’s executive director, said in a statement. “But that message won’t be heard if it’s outdated, irrelevant, or insulting to cannabis consumers. This new report offers a playbook to help states develop messaging that resonates with cannabis users and prompts them to refrain from driving for their safety and everyone else on the road.”

Since 2011, 18 states have legalized cannabis for recreational use, and this November, additional states are expected to place legalization on the ballot. Eighteen percent of U.S. adults aged 12 and older reported smoking cannabis in the past year in 2019, up from 11 percent in 2002.

As More Drivers In Fatal Crashes Use Cannabis, New Report Offers States A Safety Playbook

The paper, “Cannabis Consumers and Safe Driving: Responsible Use Messages,” arrives when state highway safety offices are confronted with quickly changing obstacles, including the drug’s legality, prevalence, and societal norms.

“There remains a significant disconnect between people’s views on its use and safe driving,” the safety groups said, noting that some people think that cannabis use improves their driving, even though” ” research confirms that cannabis directly affects the parts of the brain responsible for attention, decision-making, coordination, and reaction time, which are all critical for safe driving.”

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The report cited a survey commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in which 95 percent of respondents said that driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit is very or extremely dangerous. Still, only 69 percent said driving within an hour of consuming cannabis is dangerous. According to the paper, drug traffic fatalities increased during the Covid-19 epidemic.

“Data from trauma centers indicated that 33% of drivers involved in fatal crashes had tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, in their system – a significant increase from 21% before the pandemic. Cannabis was slightly more prevalent than alcohol in fatal crash-involved drivers (33% for cannabis vs. 29% for alcohol) during the pandemic. Impairment from multiple substances also rose the past few years, with 25% of drivers in fatal crashes testing positive for more than one impairing substance, compared to 18% before the pandemic.”

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The report highlights lessons from public outreach efforts in Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize cannabis, and more recent efforts in Connecticut and Wyoming. It also provides recommendations regarding promising practices, such as funding traffic safety programs with cannabis sales tax revenue and how to address better the challenges of communicating with the public.

For instance, the paper recommends recruiting diverse and non-traditional advisors to deliver messages and to utilize language that resonates with cannabis consumers “so they hear the safe driving message rather than tuning it out because it uses outdated terminology.” “Impaired driving, whether it involves alcohol, cannabis, other drugs, or a combination of substances, is wreaking havoc on our nation’s roads, and we all must respond quickly and effectively,” ” said Darrin Grondel, vice president of government relations and traffic safety for Responsibility.org and director of the National Alliance to Stop Impaired Driving.

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The alliance’s website contains an interactive, online database that is updated in real-time, allowing users to view cannabis and DUI legislation across the United States readily. “The messages, strategies, data, and approaches identified in this new report will make that response more effective in positively changing cannabis consumer behavior to the benefit of every American on our nation’s roadways,” Dr. Grondel added.

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