Newly released data from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) shows that marijuana is increasing as a factor in deadly crashes. The number of marijuana-impaired drivers involved in accidents has nearly doubled at a 48% increase from 2013 to 2014.
“We have seen marijuana involvement in fatal crashes remain steady over the years, and then it just spiked in 2014,” said Dr. Staci Hoff, WTSC Data and Research Director.
Also , Julie Furlong of the WTSC said 60% of the drivers involved in fatal or deadly crashes between 2010 and 2014 were tested for drugs. Of those tested, about 20% were positive for pot. These figures match those of previous years, they remained about the same year after year.
New testing and new analytics are now allowing the WTSC to determine specific THC levels at the time the driver is tested following an incident or crash. It’s called “active THC,” or enough to impair the driver’s coordination and judgement. According to the WTSC, less than half of drivers who tested positive for pot in 2010 had active TCH. However, that number increased to 65% in 2013, and skyrocketed to 85% in 2014.
Dr.Staci Hoff, Data and Research Director for the Commission, says that simply means 85% of the drivers involved in deadly-fatal collisions in 2014 who had pot in their system were actually high at the time of the accident.
Young men between the ages of 21-25 have seen the greatest jump, with over a 66% increase.
Some argue these facts show that since the legalization of marijuana in Washington state, we now face a potential epidemic of impaired drivers who are high behind the wheel. As a consequence, the National Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign is gaining momentum. From now through Labor Day, extra law enforcement officers are patrolling areas and locations where DUI is a problem.
Over 100 law enforcement agencies including all districts of the Washington State Patrol will be teaming up and participating in the extra patrols all across the state. These extra patrols are all part of Target Zero—striving to end traffic deaths and serious injuries in Washington by 2030.
First, only 60% of fatal car crash victims were tested for drugs. Without understanding how this 60% was arrived at, we run the risk of a data selection bias.
Second, if 20% of the group tested positive for marijuana then this only reflects the actual percentage of cannabis users in the state; which, by itself, is not a very convincing argument of anything.
Third, we need more data. You can’t jump to conclusions based on data that’s too new. It needs more time to be compared against other factors. We don’t hear anything else about possible confounding factors to this data, which also raises serious suspicions. However even this admission whittles marijuana as the sole culprit down to maximum of 10% of all fatal crashes.
Fourth, the data comes on the heels of new DUI emphasis patrols. Sounds like a media spin to me.
Finally, what we really need to know is how many fatal accidents occurred solely for users of marijuana over the limit. This number would be the best indication of a causal relationship if confounding factors were accounted for and the sample size was unbiased.