Cannabis use is increasing in the United States, and more and more drivers in fatal crashes have tested positive for consuming it while driving during the pandemic. A new report aims to help states communicate more effectively with motorists about safe driving.
The report, released Tuesday by the Governors Highway Safety Association, Responsibility.org and the National Alliance to Stop Impaired Driving, offers guidance on what messages work and don’t work, and highlights the need for awareness and education more effective from the public.
“As legal cannabis use becomes more widespread in the United States, motorists should be aware of the dangers of driving under the influence,” Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, 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 “But that message won’t be heard if it’s outdated, irrelevant or insulting to cannabis consumers.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 guide to help states develop messages that resonate with cannabis users and encourage them to refrain from driving for their own safety and that of everyone else on the road.
Since 2011, 18 states have legalized recreational cannabis, and more states are expected to have legalization on the November ballot. In 2019, 18% of people ages 12 and older in the United States reported using cannabis in the past year, up from 11% in 2002.
The report, “Cannabis Users and Safe Driving: Messages of Responsible Use,” comes as state traffic safety offices face rapidly evolving challenges including legality, prevalence and social norms around cannabis. drug use.
“There remains a significant disconnect between people’s opinions about its use and safe driving,” the safety groups said, noting that some people believe that cannabis use actually 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, all of which are essential for safe driving.
The report refers to a survey commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Highway Safety in which 95% of people said that driving over the legal blood alcohol limit (BAC) is very or extremely dangerous, but only 69% said that thought it was dangerous to drive within an hour of using cannabis. And road deaths involving the drug have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the report:
“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 among drivers involved in fatal crashes (33% for cannabis versus 29% for alcohol) during the pandemic. Multi-substance impairment has also increased in recent years, with 25% of drivers involved in fatal crashes testing positive for more than one impairing substance, up from 18% before the pandemic.
The report highlights lessons learned from public awareness efforts in Colorado and Washington, the first states to legalize cannabis, more recent efforts in Connecticut and Wyoming, and provides a series of recommendations on promising practices, such as funding road safety programs from cannabis sales tax revenues, and how to better address the challenges of communicating with the public.
For example, the report suggests using diverse, non-traditional counselors to deliver messengers and use language that resonates with cannabis users, “so they hear the safe driving message instead of ignoring it because that it has outdated terminology”.
“Impaired driving, whether it involves alcohol, cannabis, other drugs or a combination of substances, wreaks havoc on our nation’s roads, and we all need to respond quickly and effectively,” said Darrin Grondel, vice president of government relations and road safety for accountability. .org and Director of the National Impaired Driving Alliance.
The alliance’s website features an interactive, real-time online database that allows users to easily view state cannabis and DUI laws across the United States.
“The messages, strategies, data, and approaches identified in this new report will make this response more effective in positively changing cannabis consumer behavior for the benefit of every American on our nation’s roads,” added Dr. Grondel.
For more information on the report, click here.