Last updated: September 25, 2023
The number of pedestrian traffic-related deaths is dropping in countries around the world. In the United States, however, that’s not the case. As a matter of fact, since 2010, the number of pedestrians killed in traffic-related deaths has jumped by 77%. We should mention that is in comparison to 25% for all other traffic-related deaths.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association‘s most recent report, drivers killed at least 7,508 pedestrians on the streets of America last year. Moreover, that number surely increased because according to the report, only 49 states contributed data. Oklahoma did not due to claiming a technical issue that prevented them from accessing the information. However, if past data is used, we can add about 72 to the count.
Digging a little deeper, the Associated Press is reporting that over half of the drivers involved in pedestrian traffic-related deaths had drugs or alcohol in their system. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the element of marijuana that creates the high, was found in 54% of the injured drivers’ post-accident drug tests.
Is marijuana legalization killing pedestrians?
There are some who link the fact that ever since recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado and Washington in 2012 that the statistics regarding pedestrian traffic-related deaths have risen so rapidly. Even though the data does reflect that to be true, is it right to put the blame on legalization?
There isn’t a lot of research that helps us understand the relationship between marijuana use and safe driving. Moreover, as with every type of scientific study it seems, there are conflicting studies that “prove” both sides.
For instance, a 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, as well as other studies completed in that time frame, documented that due to THC causing mental impairment, the risk of being involved in an accident increased after marijuana use. On the other hand, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted its own study and found no significantly increased risk of crashing when under the influence of the drug. That’s partly due to the fact that alcohol and marijuana are often discovered together.
The main reason that some feel it’s impossible to judge whether or not marijuana affects driving skills is because, currently, drug tests can’t determine whether or not someone is high when the test is administered. Rather than discovering an actual drug, drug tests detect drug metabolites. Metabolites are what get left behind after the body metabolizes everything we ingest.
Unfortunately for those who use the drug, COOH-THC—the THC metabolite found in blood and urine—remains stored in the body for days, weeks, and even months after discontinuing use. The length of time that an individual can test positive depends on how often they used marijuana. Edibles included.
Undoubtedly causes impairment
Whether you smoke, vape, dab, or eat it, marijuana causes side effects that are more serious than just creating a “mellow vibe” and a serious case of the munchies. Smoking the drug gets it into the bloodstream and the effects are felt almost immediately. Eating the drug causes a slower response and effects are generally felt within 30 minutes to an hour.
In addition to having a sense of euphoria envelop the user, THC causes the following side effects:
- Altered senses—colors may appear brighter, for instance
- An altered sense of time
- Changes in mood
- Impaired body movement, clumsiness
- Difficulty with problem-solving
- Impaired memory
- Hallucinations—rare occurrences and only reported when taken in high doses
- Delusions—also, rare occurrences and only reported when taken in high doses
- Psychosis—highest risk with regular use of high-potency marijuana
Speaking of high-potency marijuana
Especially since legalization, growers are hyper-focused on producing stronger and, then, stronger yet, strains of marijuana because it would increase their profit margin. However, there is no telling what these increased levels of potency will do to the human body.
The THC levels reach over 18% in some strains sold in marijuana dispensaries. Moreover, its by-products are sold with THC levels upwards of 80% in some cases. That is a fantastical leap from the marijuana smoked “back in the day.” During the 60s and 70s, marijuana contained THC levels of between 4% and 6%.
With such increased levels of potency, it’s no wonder that people are showing up in emergency rooms suffering panic attacks and other symptoms related to smoking or otherwise ingesting marijuana. So far, no one has ever died from smoking pot, but can we say it’s never going to happen if some type of uniform regulation regarding toxicity limits isn’t put into place?
Pinpointing the cause
Overall, we tend to side with those who believe that marijuana use could, indeed, affect one’s driving ability if behind the wheel during the intoxication period. Because of that, any pedestrian in their vicinity is at increased risk of being involved in an accident. The same is true of co-workers when someone is high at work. Moreover, we know that the same could be said of alcohol and other drugs.
The problem is not being able to determine that someone is impaired at the moment. Several companies are marketing a marijuana breathalyzer. Ultimately, that’s an invention that could revolutionize the industry. Especially, if it becomes as foolproof as the alcohol breathalyzer.
Until then, it’s safe to assume that some of the drivers who hit a pedestrian were suffering the side effects of marijuana when the accident occurred. At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t matter if the driver had just smoked a joint, been drinking all day, or ingested an illegal substance before they decided to drive. They acted irresponsibly and caused an accident.
Drugs cause people to act in any number of irresponsible ways. Finances are depleted, jobs lost, relationships destroyed and, in some cases, deaths are caused. All proving the point—beyond a shadow of doubt—that we can’t stop fighting the war on drugs until we win.