Dating back to the early-1970s, 420 has been used as a slang term for smoking marijuana. With the spreading use of the term through publications such as High Times, April 20 (4/20) has become recognized by marijuana smokers as a holiday dedicated to the use of the drug. This widespread activity led Dr. John Staples, an internist and researcher at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, to use this day to look at the effect that marijuana usage can have on the safety of our roadways. As his numbers bear out, April 20 increases the rate of fatal vehicular accidents to the same degree as the Super Bowl, a day where celebrating with alcohol is a widely accepted fact.
Using data dating back to 1992, Dr. Staples shows that there is a 12% increase in the number of fatal accidents following 4/20 compared to the days one week before and one week after; comparable to numbers that are seen following the Super Bowl. While other factors always play a role, using twenty-five years of data draws a very strong conclusion; marijuana is a danger behind the wheel of a vehicle. This danger is brought on by marijuana in a number of ways: slowed reaction time and ability to make decisions, distorted perception, and impaired coordination are a few of the side effects of smoking the drug.
Outside of this study, it has been historically difficult to gauge the effect marijuana has on the rate of accidents in America for a number of reasons. One of these is that there is no accurate roadside test that can be used, similar to a breathalyzer, to verify the presence of THC in a driver. Instead, many law enforcement agencies use a urine test to find the level of carboxy THC metabolites in the driver’s system. But even with this test available, when law enforcement detects alcohol, they often don’t test for THC because they have the information they need to cite the driver. This missing information is problematic when trying to show the relationship between marijuana use and vehicular accidents and lead to the conclusion that marijuana usage has a larger impact than is currently known on vehicle accidents and operating under the influence citations.
While it is very difficult to show how much of an effect driving under the influence of marijuana has on our fatal accident rates, it is easy to see that there is a correlation. By using more than two decades of data, Dr. Staples has shown us that this relationship exists and has given us measurable proof that marijuana use can be fatal when it is mixed with driving.
By: Cody Crawford – ASAC Certified Prevention Specialist