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July/August 2016 Issue

Fatal crashes involving marijuana

Early returns are in when it comes to fatal crashes in a state that has legalized the recreational use of marijuana. And they’re not good.

According to new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research, fatal crashes involving drivers who had recently used marijuana doubled in Washington after the state legalized the drug at the end of 2012.

In the study, researchers found the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes who had a detectable level of active THC – the main chemical component in marijuana – in their blood at or shortly after the time of the crash climbed from 8 percent in 2013 to 17 percent in 2014.

“The significant increase in fatal crashes involving marijuana is alarming,” said foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger. “Washington serves as an eye-opening case study for what other states may experience with road safety after legalizing the drug.”

Washington and Colorado were the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and the AAA findings raise serious concerns as other states consider changing their marijuana laws. Alaska, Oregon, and the District of Columbia also have legalized recreational marijuana use, and 20 other states have legalized it for therapeutic and medicinal purposes.

While increased marijuana use is expected in those states, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that the drug’s use is growing nationwide. According to a NHTSA survey, nearly 13 percent of weekend nighttime drivers had evidence of recent marijuana intake in their systems in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available, up from 9 percent in 2007.

Some states have created legal, or “per se,” limits, which specify that having more than a certain concentration of THC in one’s blood while driving is illegal, regardless of whether there is additional evidence that the driver is impaired. However, new research shows that marijuana per se limits are arbitrary and unsupported by science, raising concerns that some unsafe motorists might go free, while others could be wrongfully convicted.

AAA Foundation researchers examined lab results of drivers arrested for impaired driving and results suggested:

• No science reliably shows drivers become impaired at a specific level of marijuana in the blood. This is different from alcohol, for which the relationship between blood alcohol concentration and impairment is well understood.

• A driver’s THC level may drop from above a legal threshold to below it in the time between when a driver is stopped by police or involved in a crash and when a blood test is administered. It can take hours to obtain blood samples, because they often require warrants and transport to a facility.

• Marijuana affects people differently, making it challenging to develop fair guidelines.

AAA urges states where marijuana use is legal to use a two-component enforcement system that requires a positive test for recent marijuana use, as well as behavioral and physiological evidence obtained by law enforcement, to convict a person of marijuana-impaired driving. •




Prevent car theft during summer when thieves are active

Most of us have had the experience of trying to find our car in a parking lot when a thought comes to mind: Was the car stolen? Though many are relieved to find their vehicle parked a few aisles away, not everyone is so lucky. Car theft is a common crime, but there are steps you can take to prevent it.

In 2013, there were nearly 700,000 reported cases of car theft in the United States. On average, a car is stolen every 45 seconds. While this crime can happen at any time, the most common months for car theft are in July and August.

Thieves use crowbars or shatter windows to get inside a car, yet nearly half of thefts are due to drivers leaving keys in the car or doors unlocked.

To protect your vehicle, close all windows and lock the doors after you park. Park in well-lit areas close to a building or under a street lamp. Never leave valuables in the vehicle. If you don’t take them with you, hide them in the glove box, trunk, or under seats. Never leave your car unattended while it’s idling. Turn off and lock your car, no matter how quickly you will be back.

Also, consider purchasing an anti-theft system, which can range from a steering wheel lock to a high-tech alarm that can scare off thieves with blaring horns or render the vehicle inoperable.


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