As More States Get Legal Pot, Americans Hazy On Drugged Driving

December 29, 2014

We’re in the midst of holiday season, and most Americans understand the tremendous danger—and potentially devastating consequences—that drinking and driving subjects motorists and the public to. But what about the dangers of the widely available recreational marijuana that’s already legal in Colorado and Washington and soon to be so in Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia?

U.S. drivers are a lot hazier about that—as well as the consequences and impairments that result from prescription medications and painkillers.

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In a recent AAA survey, while 66 percent said that people driving after drinking pose a very serious threat to safety, only 56 percent attached that threat level to illegal drugs in general and just 28 percent to prescription drugs. And Americans aren’t clear on what the impairment thresholds are for marijuana, or on the legal and safety issues.

These findings come ahead of the full 2015 Traffic Culture Index report, to be released next month from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Eight in ten Americans agreed that it is ‘completely unacceptable’ to drive one hour after using marijuana. Meanwhile the AAA notes federal research showing that marijuana can impair driving performance for up to three hours.

Furthermore, some research shows that marijuana impairment has two components, an acute one and a chronic one—and the latter, for regular marijuana users, could affect driving for weeks even after they stop.

The results also point to the need for an adjustment in driver attitude regarding prescription drugs. “Just because a doctor prescribes a drug, or you can purchase it over-the-counter doesn't necessarily mean it is safe to use while driving,” said Jake Nelson, AAA's director of traffic safety advocacy, who recommended that you discuss all potential side effects with your doctor or pharmacist.

According to the AAA, the use of one prescription drug has increased by ten percent in the past decade, while the use of five or more prescription drugs has increased by 70 percent. Medication can affect drivers’ alertness, concentration, general vehicle control, and mood (and arguably, decision-making).

The AAA Foundation does offer a Roadwise Rx tool that will help you check on a drug’s side effects, or potential interactions.

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