First, we would like to take this opportunity to thank the thousands of you who responded to NORML’s request to contact the American Automobile Association and urged them to “stop lying about marijuana legalization.”
But even as public and media pressure grows, AAA affiliates are doubling down on their reefer madness rhetoric.
At a recent AAA Texas-sponsored event, attendees were falsely told that drivers testing positive possess a 25-fold risk of accident compared to sober drivers. But the actual study cited by AAA concluded nothing of the sort. Rather, the study in question — conducted by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — determined that THC-positive drivers possessed virtually no statistically significant risk of motor vehicle accident compared to drug negative drivers.
Similarly, AAA Mid-Atlantic is continuing to distort the truth about cannabis. Despite having been provided with peer-reviewed evidence to the contrary, a recent reply by their Director of Public and Government Affairs office shows that the agency is refusing to listen to the facts with regard to cannabis regulation and traffic safety.
“We are deeply concerned that lawmakers are considering the legalization of recreational marijuana,” the AAA’s response states. “AAA opposes the legalization … of marijuana for recreational use because of its negative traffic safety implications.”
Yet, recent studies of federal crash data find that changes in the legal status of cannabis are not associated with a rise in traffic fatalities – and, in some instances, regulating cannabis has been associated with a reduction in deadly motor vehicle crashes.
Nonetheless, AAA Mid-Atlantic opines, “The problem of drugged driving … will only get worse if [a] state legalizes it for recreational use.”
AAA further argues that a 2015 Governors Highway Safety report finds that “drugs were present in … fatally-injured drivers with known test results, appearing more frequently than alcohol.” However, AAA fails to acknowledge that the Governors report was primarily highlighting a rise in the presence of prescription medications and over-the-counter medications in fatally injured drivers. As acknowledged by the paper’s authors: “For this report, a drug is any substance that can impair driving. There are four categories of drugs: illegal drugs, legal non-medical drugs, prescription medications, [and] over-the counter medicines.” The Governors’ report also fails to identify whether the drug-positive drivers identified by the study were either impaired at the time of the crash or even culpable for the accident.
Further, the Governors’ report has fallen under scathing public criticism from other traffic safety groups, including MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), who publicly repudiated its interpretations. “There is no way you can say that drugs have overtaken alcohol as the biggest killer on the highway,” MADD responded. “The data is not anywhere close to being in a way that would suggest that.”
They’re correct. Specifically, a 2014 review of US fatal traffic accident data by researchers at the Pacific Research Institute in Maryland reported definitively that alcohol remains a greater contributor to crash risk than all other drugs combined, concluding: “Alcohol was not only found to be an important contributor to fatal crash risk, … it was associated with fatal crash risk levels significantly higher than those for other drugs. … The much higher crash risk of alcohol compared with that of other drugs suggests that in times of limited resources, efforts to curb drugged driving should not reduce our efforts to pass and implement effective alcohol-related laws and policies.”
If we are going to achieve sane policy solutions in regards to cannabis reform, it is essential that we call out those who seek to deceive the public, even if we appreciate their roadside assistance.