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Bad Headlines

The headline for the article on NBC News “Pot Fuels Surge in Drugged Driving Deaths” is accompanied by a disturbing photo of a crumpled car destroyed in an accident. The article itself says that new research supports the claim that legal marijuana is making the problem of drugged driving worse, and tells stories of people who lost children and relatives in accidents where there was evidence of drug use. Scary! The article strongly implies that legalizing marijuana leads to more traffic deaths.

But as Forbes points out, this article is grossly misleading at best.

In fact, a separate study showed that in states where medical marijuana was legalized, traffic fatalities actually went down significantly. This other study theorized that this happened because people substituted marijuana for alcohol. California saw traffic fatalities drop by 31% after they legalized medical marijuana, in Hawaii they dropped by 14% and in Rhode Island by 21%. Alcohol, which of course is legal, has a much more dramatic effect on driving ability than marijuana.

Another problem with the NBC article is that they used a statistic from the study that found remnants of marijuana use in 12.2% of drivers killed in traffic accidents during 2010, up from 4.2% in 1999. The problem is that marijuana can be detected up to a week after use. So this statistic is more about how many people are smoking marijuana somewhat regularly than if they were actually impaired while driving.

The bottom line is that scare and sensationalist tactics like those used in the NBC article don’t help (other than perhaps help NBC attract readers and sell advertising). Driving while impaired by anything, whether it is legal drugs like alcohol and cold medicines, or illegal (in some places) drugs like marijuana, is the problem.



  1. il-08 wrote:

    Simple solution, license all pot distribution in the US to Budweiser. Within 3 months everyone will be convinced that pot makes us more attractive to models and play sports better.

    Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink
  2. PatriotSGT wrote:

    LOL at Il-08

    You’re right IK, the problem is not necessarily marijuana, but driving under the influence of anything. The other problem is the laws are too lax. I know a guy who has been arrested and convicted 4 times for DUI in my blue state. The last time his 48 hr jail sentence was suspended because he had voluntarily gone to AA meetings (which he stopped going immediately after his sentencing). His license was revoked, but he was still driving without one. He had previously had to use a breathalizer hooked up to his ignition system and then he figured out how to have someone else blow in it to start the car. It’s only a matter of time until he kills himself or god forbid someone else. I have told him if I see him drinking and driving I will turn him in (or BHA) so he doesn’t do it around me.
    I don’t know what we can do to lessen the impact of impaired driving.
    The other one that is on the rise is distracted driving (ie. texting or using a hand held device), which in my state is illegal. I see it all the time every day and have to drive behind people crossing the center line while looking at their phones. There’s no one demographic more responsible then another that I’ve seen.

    Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    PSgt, by NBC’s logic, we should outlaw cell phones. How many more people have to die?

    And how in the world does that guy talk someone into blowing into his breathalizer for him? And then are they a passenger while he drives drunk?

    Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 7:39 pm | Permalink
  4. PatriotSGT wrote:

    Knuckleheads always find a way to keep scamming, or more appropriately taking any responsibility for themselves.
    He would get in the drivers seat and have someone lean in and blow, then drive off. I’m sure at some time they were also passengers because you can’t fix stupid.

    Ban cell phones. Or install a movement sensor and they’ll only work when sitting still. LOL

    Personally, I think the phones and apps have been marketed too well and consequently people pay more attention to the device then the person (or car) next to them. And the new term that should be an oxymoron is “social networking”. typing into a device to be read by another device really takes the social out of networking. On a funny note I was at a military social (we still talk) and I saw one of my Soldiers with his girlfriend sitting next to each other on a bench. Each had their cell phones out and were texting and surfing without saying a word to each other. I casually walked up to them and said “You know, you are allowed to actually talk when you’re on a date.” They both smiled and then went back to their phones.

    Friday, February 21, 2014 at 8:23 am | Permalink
  5. Dan wrote:

    Seems to me pot use can be detected as far out as a month after use.
    They need to design a car the blocks a cell signal going to/from the driver’s seat while the car is in motion.
    Although, I’m sure some people will find a way to get creative and beat that too.

    Friday, February 28, 2014 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

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