Richmond, VA (Monday, June 28, 2021) - In just two days, on July 1, Virginia will take its first step in the process of legalizing recreational cannabis for adults 21 and over, a change that raises serious concerns over traffic safety, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.
AAA opposes the legalization of cannabis for recreational use because of its inherent traffic safety risks and because of the difficulties in writing legislation that protects the public and treats drivers fairly.
“AAA is deeply concerned about the negative traffic safety implications of the legalization of recreational cannabis in Virginia,” said Martha Mitchell Meade, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reviewed a full 10-years’ worth of data about the potential impact of marijuana on driving safety and the results suggested that legalization of recreational use of marijuana may increase the rate of THC-positive drivers involved in fatal crashes.”
In Washington State after the state legalized the drug, fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used cannabis doubled, according to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (2020). Crash rates and insurance claims also increased in Colorado, Nevada and Oregon after recreational legalization passed. Data from the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice shows the number of fatalities with cannabinoid‐only or cannabinoid‐in‐combination (with other drugs and alcohol) positive drivers increased 153%, from 55 in 2013 to 139 in 2017.
AAA urges drivers to refrain from driving impaired via any substance, including cannabis. “The safety of Virginia roads is the responsibility of every driver. Simply put, if you’ve used cannabis, don’t drive and if you plan to drive, don’t use cannabis,” Meade added.
Marijuana Impacts Driving Ability
- Research shows that marijuana can impair drivers in a variety of ways. It can affect psychomotor functions such as attention, reaction time and coordination, but generally it appears to affect automated or routine driving more than tasks requiring conscious effort.
- Further, numerous laboratory-based studies have demonstrated that marijuana use impairs many aspects of cognitive and physical function that are necessary for safe driving.
- Marijuana can decrease car handling, can impair performance and attention while increasing reaction times, following distance and lane deviation.
- Mixing alcohol and marijuana may produce effects greater than either drug on its own.
There is no level of marijuana safe for driving
- Marijuana can affect people differently, making it difficult to develop consistent and fair guidelines like how long someone should wait to drive after using the drug.
- There is no science to show that drivers reliably become impaired at specific levels of marijuana (i.e., active THC) in the body.
- Depending on the person, drivers with relatively high levels of marijuana in their system might not be impaired, while others with low levels may be unsafe behind the wheel.
- People who use marijuana cannot accurately determine how much marijuana is in their blood or of their brain (where impairment occurs).
What Can You Do?
- Impaired driving is a criminal behavior regardless of whether a drug is prescribed, obtained over-the counter, bought in a retail setting, or considered an illicit substance.
- Just because a drug is legal does not mean it is safe to use while operating a motor vehicle.
- If you get behind the wheel while you’re impaired by any substance, you put yourself, your passengers and others on the road at risk.
Under Virginia law, drivers AND passengers are also, forbidden from “consuming marijuana or marijuana products while in a motor vehicle being driven upon a public highway.” Open containers, or those not in the originally sealed manufacturer's container, in the passenger area of motor vehicles are also illegal.
AAA provides automotive, travel, and insurance services to more than 62 million members nationwide and more than one million members in Virginia. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. AAA is a non-stock, membership corporation working on behalf of motorists, who can map a route, access a COVID travel restriction map, find local gas prices and electric vehicle charging stations, discover discounts, book a hotel, and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app (AAA.com/mobile) for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information on joining or renewing a Membership, visit www.AAA.com.