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How Marijuana Legalization is Impacting Crash Rates

Following the continued legalization of the use and sale of recreational marijuana in several states across the U.S., a recent report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found a spike in crash rates in states where it was legalized: California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. 1

AAA found that drivers who are under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana are some of the most dangerous drivers on the road, as they are more likely to speed and drive aggressively.

New Studies on Impaired Driving

Another study from the Highway Loss Data Institute also made similar discoveries. “Our latest research makes it clear that legalizing marijuana for recreational use does increase overall crash rates,” according to David Harkey, the president of IIHS-HLDI.

These particular studies didn’t directly identify if these crashes were the result of driving under the influence of marijuana, but the correlation between legalization and driving risk was clear.

“That’s obviously something policymakers and safety professionals will need to address as more states move to liberalize their laws — even if the way marijuana affects crash risk for individual drivers remains uncertain,” said Harkey.

How Marijuana Impacts Driver Behavior

While more detailed studies analyzing how driving high on marijuana results in auto crashes are still in their infancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have explored the negative effects of driving while under the influence of cannabis. 2

According to the CDC, Marijuana negatively affects driver motor skills in several ways:

Marijuana use can slow your reaction time and ability to make decisions.
It can impair coordination, distort perception, and lead to memory loss and difficulty in problem-solving. The risk of impaired driving associated with marijuana in combination with alcohol appears to be greater than that for either by itself.

Marijuana and Alcohol May Increase Aggressive Driving

The recent IIHS study noted a correlation to the rise of driving high while simultaneously being under the influence of alcohol.

“Early evidence has already emerged that shows self-reports of past-month marijuana and alcohol use have increased, while the reported use of alcohol alone has decreased, especially in states where recreational use of marijuana is now legal,” the IIHS study said. So if your fleet truck drivers are getting high on the job, they may also just as likely be drinking.

The CDC has stated that because drivers under the influence may have both of these “drugs” in their system in the instance of a crash, it can be difficult to determine which substance led to a crash incident.

AAA found that drivers who are under the influence of both substances are some of the most dangerous drivers on the road, as they are more likely to speed, text, drive aggressively, and run red lights than those who don’t. 3

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Real-World Examples of Fleet Drivers Under the Influence

Because the continued legalization of cannabis across the U.S. is still relatively in its infancy, fleets must try to be mindful of how cannabis can affect driving behaviors so they can avoid making mistakes in their operation that others have already made.

In 2020, a pool service truck driver in Florida pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter after his vehicle hit a man who was walking in Tampa Bay. The driver admitted he had been smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. 4

Witnesses reported seeing the fleet truck driver weaving in and out of traffic and going twice the speed limit before the fatality, performing dangerous maneuvers akin to what AAA had noted in its studies.

Meanwhile, in Augusta, Ga. earlier in 2021, the television network WRDW-TV found that DUI arrests of commercial drivers were on the rise in their area, and several arrests were attributed to people driving under the influence of marijuana. 5 The particular study found that a total of 10 truck drivers were charged with a DUI for marijuana use, from January to May 2021. Also, officers in the report found 18 drivers with marijuana in their trucks.

Are My Fleet Drivers Impaired by Drugs?

Without regularly conducting drug tests or reviewing motor vehicle records, it can be difficult to know if your drivers are on the road under the influence of marijuana. But being mindful of how driving behavior changes once marijuana is consumed can be a helpful place to start.

Tests conducted of drivers who are under the influence of marijuana (excluding alcohol) have found they are likely to drive at slower speeds, make fewer attempts to overtake, and keep more distance between vehicles ahead of them, according to the IIHS.

One way to potentially identify peculiar driving behaviors is to monitor driver productivity during the day. Are your drivers taking longer to travel between jobs? Are they spending more time at a given job site? Are they finishing their workdays later than usual?

If these behaviors have started to show in some of your drivers (especially if you’re in a state where marijuana is now legal for recreation) this might be something you want to investigate.

Also, regularly checking the interior of your fleet vehicles for any signs of “evidence” of marijuana use will be helpful. Look for signs of ashes/burn marks, see if the interior of the vehicle has any unique “odors,” or anything else that could provide you with any insight.

Adopt Telematics Solutions to Monitor Fleet Driver Risks

But consistently monitoring driver efficiency and productivity can be difficult for fleet managers who are juggling multiple tasks on any given day.

Available telematics technologies can help fleet managers monitor specific driving behaviors that may provide insight into adopting bad habits.

“We are able to tell if our technicians were lying on their timesheets and track them better.
It works great for our purposes. We have to track our service technicians’ work vans to ensure they are at the job they are supposed to be at and the options the software provides are endless,” according to a GPS Trackit customer who requested anonymity.

Consider investing in telematics solutions to better track your drivers’ behaviors, as using these solutions can save your fleet millions through crash prevention and possible subsequent litigation if you can catch drivers who are getting high and driving.

If you’d like to learn more about how GPS Trackit can help to improve safety, increase productivity and reduce costs for your business, speak with one of our knowledgeable Fleet Advisors at 866-320-5810 or get a quick Custom Quote.

www.iihs.org/news/detail/crash-rates-jump-in-wake-of-marijuana-legalization-new-studies-show
www.cdc.gov/marijuana/pdf/marijuana-driving-508.pdf
newsroom.aaa.com/2021/04/risky-driving-behaviors-of-drivers-who-use-alcohol-and-marijuana/
abcactionnews.com/news/region-hillsborough/pool-truck-driver-pleads-guilty-to-dui-manslaughter-in-bayshore-crash-that-killed-70-year-old-man
www.wrdw.com/2021/05/20/i-team-truck-drivers-substance-abuse/

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