It’s always nice to get a break from the endless stream of industry marketing materials about electrification, though this week’s impromptu theme still involves going green. Following news that General Motors is considering changing its drug testing policies to exclude marijuana, there has been heavy coverage of an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study claiming states that have legalized recreational use of cannabis are seeing more crashes.
But the framing seems wildly irresponsible as it fails to highlight the problem being heavily tied to individuals operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana and alcohol combined. It’s more or less what the IIHS attempted to do in 2018 with help from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI). Our guess is that the duo is seeking out fresh reasons for insurance companies to raise rates in regions that have legalized pot because even their own research complicates the issue.
The Supreme Court has ruled that police may order blood drawn from an unconscious person suspected of driving under the influence without a warrant. While that sounds like a possible violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches, justices in support of the practice claimed individuals consent to blood tests just by being on the road.
Their rationale? Wisconsin and a bunch of other U.S. states have laws that already make this legal and there’s a national precedent allowing for exigent circumstances. But let’s start with America’s Dairyland for some background.
California Highway Patrol arrested a 45-year-old man early Friday morning under the suspicion of driving under the influence while his 2017 Tesla Model S was operating in Autopilot on Highway 101.
While condemned previously for its misleading marketing, Tesla has been clearer of late that Autopilot is not self-driving. Likewise, anyone who owns one of its vehicles should be able to understand that the feature has limitations necessitating regular human involvement to complete any journey.
However, none of this has stopped individuals from abusing the driving aid. In August another motorist was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol after his Tesla collided with a fire truck. Earlier in the year, a Tesla owner passed out while behind the wheel. Fortunately, Autopilot brought the vehicle to a stop in the middle of the Oakland Bay Bridge.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute announced Thursday that auto crashes in states with legalized recreational marijuana have increased 6 percent. Both groups will be on hand at the Combating Alcohol-and Drug-Impaired Driving summit at IIHS’ Vehicle Research Center in Ruckersville, Virginia to present two studies on the issue. Perfect timing, considering Canada just became the second country to legalize the substance and support for decriminalization continues to grow in the United States.
Of course, things are rarely so simple. While the IIHS and HLDI remain confident in their research, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration claimed marijuana use was unlikely to contribute to traffic mishaps in any meaningful way back in 2015. And that’s just for starters. There is so much conflicting information on this issue, it’ll make your head spin harder than the most savage bong rip of your life, bro.
It’s estimated that roughly 28 people are killed every day as a result of drivers intoxicated on alcohol. In 2015, 10,265 people died in alcohol-related incidents, accounting for nearly one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities within the United States. However, the Department of Transportation shows the number of deaths associated with drunk driving trending downward since 2007. Likewise, the number of annual self-reported alcohol-impaired driving episodes recorded by the CDC have diminished to record lows in that same timeframe — and so have arrests.
Law enforcement likely played an important role. Police departments take drunk driving seriously and decades of aggressive actions have made the risks involved less than appetizing to even those whose judgement is clouded by booze. But as alcohol-related arrests have plummeted, drug-related arrests have gone up.
While much of this can be attributed to drunk drivers who decided to double-down with marijuana, drugs are estimated to be a factor in 16 percent of motor vehicle crashes where alcohol isn’t present. This has resulted in some police departments implementing special task forces designated to identify and arrest “drugged drivers.” But there is a problem — officers in Georgia have been arresting innocent people.
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