Study: High drivers don’t think they’ll get caught

DENVER, Colo.– Nearly 70 percent of Americans think it’s unlikely a driver will get caught by police for driving while impaired by marijuana, per the latest findings from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The same study found that an estimated 14.8 million drivers, nationwide, report they’ve driven within one hour of using marijuana at least once in the past 30 days. That’s alarming, in part, because the impairing effects of marijuana are usually experienced within the first one-to-four hours after using the drug – and marijuana users who drive high are up to twice as likely to be involved in a crash.

“Choosing to use cannabis triggers the same responsibilities as choosing to use alcohol: The bottom line is that if you’re impaired, you should not drive,” said AAA Colorado spokesman Skyler McKinley. “Still, our latest research shows that many drivers don’t consider marijuana-impaired driving to be as risky as driving drunk. Now is an important time to have a conversation about safe use, and to drive home the point that people who drive high put everybody at risk.”

Per AAA’s research, more Americans approve of driving after using marijuana (7%) than they do driving drunk (1.6%), drowsy driving (1.7%), and prescription drug-impaired driving (3%). Other survey findings show:

  • Millennials (nearly 14%) are most likely to report driving within one hour after using marijuana in the past 30 days, followed by Generation Z (10%).
  • Men (8%) are more likely than women (5%) to report driving shortly after using marijuana in the past 30 days.

“With cannabis legalization in Colorado, law enforcement are increasingly able to identify marijuana-impaired drivers – and those who get behind the wheel high can be arrested and prosecuted,” McKinley said. “The consequences are never worth the risk.”

Programs such as Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and the 50-state Drug Evaluation and Classification Program (DECP) were developed to train law enforcement officers around the country to more effectively recognize drug-impaired driving. At present, there are more than 87,000 ARIDE- and 8,300 DECP-trained officers patrolling U.S. roadways. Additionally, the overall number of trained Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) has increased by 30 percent since 2013. Since 2015, the number of drivers arrested by DREs for using marijuana has increased by 20 percent.

Importantly, in Colorado, tax revenues from our state-legal recreational marijuana marketplace fund DRE and ARIDE training and other mechanisms to discourage and prevent impaired driving.

Distracted Driving

  • More drivers view reading (95.9%) or typing (96.7%) a text/e-mail on a hand-held cellphone while driving to be very or extremely dangerous, compared with talking on a hand-held cellphone (79.8%). However, more respondents believe drivers risk being caught by police for talking on a hand-held cellphone (47.3%) than they do for reading (43.3%) or typing (46.3%) a text/email on a hand-held cellphone.
  • A stark majority of drivers support laws against distracted driving, with almost 75 percent supporting laws against handheld phone use and about 88 percent supporting laws against reading, typing, or sending a text or e-mail while driving. While Colorado law already prohibits texting while driving, lawmakers earlier this year rejected a measure to ban handheld phone use altogether.
  • More than half of drivers (52.1%) report having driven while talking on a hand-held cellphone at least once in the past 30 days. Fewer respondents report engaging in distracted driving by reading (41.3%) or typing a text/email (32.1%) on a hand-held cellphone while driving.

Risky and Aggressive Driving Behaviors

  • About half of drivers (54.2%) indicate that speeding on a freeway is dangerous, while 64 percent of drivers perceived speeding on a residential street as dangerous.
  • Nearly 66 percent of respondents felt that police would catch a person driving 15 mph over the speed limit on a freeway, yet almost 50 percent reported having done so at least once in the past 30 days.
  • Over 85 percent of drivers consider speeding through a red light to be very or extremely dangerous, and 55 percent felt that the police would catch a driver for running a red light.

Drowsy Driving

 Over 96 percent of drivers identify drowsy driving as very or extremely dangerous. But less than 40 percent thought drowsy drivers risked being caught by the police.

  • Despite high rates of perceived danger and social disapproval relating to drowsy driving, about 27 percent of drivers admit to having driven while being so tired they had a hard time keeping their eyes open, at least once in the past 30 days.

Impaired Driving

  • Most drivers (95.1%) perceive driving after drinking as very or extremely dangerous. Still, almost 11 percent admit to having done so in the past 30 days.
  • Seventy percent of respondents consider driving shortly (within an hour) after using marijuana to be very or extremely dangerous. Still, seven percent of drivers personally approve of this behavior.
  • Most drivers (87.3%) perceive driving after using potentially impairing prescription drugs as very or extremely dangerous. About 45 percent of drivers believe that people driving after using potentially impairing prescription drugs would be likely to be caught by the police.
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