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It Ain’t a Crime If You Don’t Get Caught? Driving High Still High-Risk

In the past 30 days, 14.8 million Americans have driven while high — within one hour of using marijuana — according to a new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The study, part of AAA’s Traffic Safety Culture Index, found that 70 percent of Americans think it’s dangerous to operate a vehicle while high — but nearly the same percentage believe it’s unlikely that a driver high on marijuana will be caught by police.

Related: One Toke Over the Centerline: Crashes Up in Marijuana States

Much debate has surrounded the question of marijuana’s effects on driving, and hard answers have often proven elusive. But let’s be clear: Driving while high is demonstrably dangerous and, generally speaking, illegal.

“Marijuana can significantly alter reaction times and impair a driver’s judgement,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Yang said many drivers don’t equate the risks of marijuana-impaired driving with the risks of drunken driving or even driving while sleep-deprived. Seven percent of those surveyed said they approved of driving after having recently used marijuana, compared with just 1.6 percent who said it was OK to drive under the influence of alcohol, and 1.7 percent who said it was OK to drive while drowsy.

“It’s important for everyone to understand that driving after recently using marijuana can put themselves and others at risk,” Yang said.

Still, many don’t believe they will be caught driving high because it’s hard to detect — assuming authorities don’t observe you using openly in your vehicle. While an officer can see a person texting while driving or administer tests to someone suspected of drunken driving, there’s no such thing as a marijuana breathalyzer — at least, not a broadly accepted and widely available one.

That doesn’t mean, however, that a trained officer isn’t going to sniff you out.

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“Any driver who gets behind the wheel high can be arrested and prosecuted,” said Jake Nelson, AAA director of Traffic Safety and Advocacy. “Law enforcement officials are getting more sophisticated in their methods for identifying marijuana-impaired drivers and the consequences are not worth the risk.”

Through programs like Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement and the 50-state Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, law enforcement officers are trained to better recognize drivers who are impaired by drugs. The number of certified drug recognition experts has increased 30 percent since 2013, with more than 95,300 officers trained by these programs now on U.S. roads. The number of drivers arrested by DREs for using marijuana has increased 20 percent since 2015.

“AAA recommends all motorists avoid driving while impaired by marijuana or any other drug (including alcohol) to avoid arrest and keep the roads safe,” AAA said in a statement.  “Just because a drug is legal does not mean it is safe to use while operating a motor vehicle.”

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