Washington State Report Highlights Police Mistakes in Testing Drug Driving Says Shop Insurance Canada
January 14, 2017 (PRLEAP.COM) Business NewsJanuary 14, 2017 - As Canada's path to marijuana legalization is forged, law enforcement, insurance companies, and safety groups are considering the impact drug-driving will have on roads. How police will manage a surge of drug impaired drivers is a hot topic. Shop Insurance Canada says new report out of Washington State in the United States presents an interesting view of what Canada can expect once it finally lurches to marijuana legalization.
The insurance industry expert says the legalization of marijuana will bring with it a surge in drug-driving offences. Unfortunately, police in Canada are not yet equipped to deal with drug driving. Evidence out of the USA suggests law enforcement south of the border has been getting it wrong when trying to police drug driving. Canada can take lessons from the mistakes and use a new report to help them understand how cannabis legalization can change statistics.
There has been enough compelling evidence and irrefutable studies to show that the legalization of cannabis provides a direct correlation to increased drug driving. It is a trend that will certainly continue in Canada, and while law enforcement is equipped to deal with drink driving, there is no firm plan in place to police drug driving.
A Washington State study shows interesting evidence to suggest that in some circumstances, drug driving is as common and as dangerous as drunk driving. There is also times of the day when driving high is more prominent. The report, titled Most WA State Marijuana Driving Fatalities Occur while Speeding After Work: Nearly Equal Alcohol Fatalities, gives Canadian police a pointer to how drivers react when marijuana is legalized and how they can deal with increased impaired driving offences.
While drunk driving is commonly believed to be more prevalent than drug driving, evidence in Washington suggests otherwise.
The state is a test ground for Marijuana legalization as it was one of the first to open regulations for the drug. Recreational retail points for cannabis were opened in 2014, that same year driving fatalities caused by alcohol was at 30%, while for marijuana it was 25.4%. By 2015 the difference had reduced considerably, with fatalities from alcohol at 24.3% and for cannabis 23%.
"Three successive years of driving fatality statistics demonstrate marijuana fatalities have become a larger proportion of fatal crashes" the report states. The last two years show no statistical difference between the percent of marijuana driving fatalities and percent of alcohol driving fatalities."
Evidence shows that marijuana use in impaired driving cases has been common long before Washington legalized the drug. Before legalizations, blood tests for drug use were not typically performed if the blood-alcohol levels came back at 0.10 percent or higher. The study shows that drug impairment when driving often goes hand in hand with alcohol impairment. In other words, the cases that were only tested for alcohol consumption overlooked the possibility that marijuana had also been used.
"More than 1/3 of the drivers testing positive for marijuana were with a DUI of 0.08 or more. Only slightly less than half, 46.7%, of the marijuana drivers had not been drinking alcohol. Marijuana use is combined with alcohol (BAC 0.01+) in 53.3% of marijuana driving fatality cases. R Hartman, et. al. displayed that moderate amounts of both marijuana (blood 5 ng/ml THC + BAC 0.05) create equivalent lateral movement (lane weaving) as being legally drunk (BAC = 0.08).2"
While alcohol and marijuana cause impairment together in many cases, there is evidence that shows drivers on alcohol use their vehicles at different times to those on marijuana. For decades, the most common impaired driving time for alcohol has been over a weekend (Fri-Sun) and during the hours of Midnight – 3:59 am. Essentially, this when people are off work and when the bars are open/closing.
This is true in Washington State, where 34.3% of alcohol fatalities occurred under these circumstances. During 2015, Fridays accounted for 19.2% of all driving fatalities for the week, Saturday (20.2%) and Sunday (28.3%).
Interestingly, this is not the case for impaired driving caused by marijuana. The most frequent fatalities occur at the end of a normal working day (4 pm – 7:59 pm) Monday to Friday. The fatality rate in 2015 for marijuana drivers at these times was 28.4%. Again, the social clichés play a part. Marijuana is a drug that relaxes, it stands to reason that people use the drug to unwind after work.
"Like alcohol, marijuana consumption occurs primarily after work due to consequences of consumption before and during working hours. Plus there is the ability for employers to check for presence of drugs use. Unlike alcohol, the incidence of day of the week of marijuana consumption is not concentrated around any day or group of days. Marijuana use is more of a daily routine. There is a slight increase, but not statistically significant, in marijuana crashes occurring on Saturdays (19.3%) versus an average of 14.3% for equivalent daily usage."
Despite impaired driving from Cannabis largely taking place at a different time and day to alcohol impairment, police in Washington State only focus on the latter. The most frequent tests for alcohol and/or marijuana occur between midnight and 4am on a weekend, the hotspot circumstance to catch drunk drivers, but not necessarily drug drivers.
Shop Insurance Canada Conclusion
This is an important lesson for Canadian law enforcement, who will need to make tests consistent across a day to be able to police drug driving more efficiently. Shop Insurance Canada says the report offers a perfect snapshot of what happens when marijuana legalization is introduced and that police can learn from the study and the mistakes law enforcement has made in Washington State:
"It is not a question of being for or against marijuana legalization, but more about how police deal with impaired driving on our roads. The evidence from Washington State is compelling and shows that drug-driving may well have been very common in Canada for years, almost matching levels of drunk driving. Police can learn from the report by recognizing that drivers who are high tend to be operating vehicles at different times of the day to those who are driving after drinking.
"The solution is obvious. Police simply must be more dynamic in when they test drivers. Common times for drug driving differ from weekends and late at night. Law enforcement must be wise to this and be more consistent with testing throughout the day."
* WA State Marijuana Driving Fatalities Occur while Speeding After Work: Nearly Equal Alcohol Fatalities is a report and study conducted by Phillip Drum, Pharm. D. and Alfred Crancer, B.S., M.A.
About Shop Insurance Canada
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