Link between fatal crashes and marijuana in Washington misses key point

Jan 31, 2020, 12:35 PM

A recently published study from AAA details a sizable jump in fatal crashes in Washington where drivers tested positive for marijuana since 2012. But does it tell the whole story?

Marijuana, driving and fatalities: Putting it into perspective

The study draws a line between the legalization of marijuana in Washington state and an uptick in fatal crashes involving the popular recreational drug. While just 8.8 percent of fatal crashes involved marijuana in 2012, that number jumped to 14 percent in 2013, ranged between 17 and 19 percent between 2014 and 2016, and then peaked in 2017 at 21.4 percent.

That increase, AAA says, “raises important traffic safety concerns for drivers across the country because recreational marijuana is now legal in 11 states and Washington, D.C.”

It’s possible for drivers to test positive for marijuana for several days — even weeks — after consuming THC products.

“I don’t know how accurately you can test for THC in someone’s system and have a result that will reliably tell you whether or not they’re currently under the influence,” noted KIRO Nights co-host Aaron Mason.

According to American Addiction Centers, THC can be detected in testing for up to 90 days using hair, and “anywhere between 3 days to a month or longer” in urine samples. It can also linger for up to 48 hours in saliva, and 36 hours in blood.

What happened to crime under Washington’s legal marijuana?

In terms of vehicle fatalities involving alcohol, 30 percent of fatal crashes in Washington involved alcohol-impaired drivers in 2016, and 31 percent in 2017.

“Look at these numbers in Washington state — we know that drinking too much alcohol causes deaths, and it hasn’t made us ban alcohol,” said Angela Russell, filling in as co-host for Mike Lewis.

“We really have to get out there and let people know that it’s not so simple — there’s a lot to it,” said Mason. “But the thing to keep in mind: Do not operate a motor vehicle if you are not sober. If you’re drunk, you’re not sober, and if you’re high, you’re not sober.”

Listen to the KIRO Nights weeknights from 7 – 10 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Link between fatal crashes and marijuana in Washington misses key point