Marijuana was the most prevalent drug found in drivers involved in fatal Massachusetts crashes from 2013 to 2017, according to the Baker administration, which launched an impaired-driving campaign Wednesday targeted at young men.
“People may think they can drive safely using cannabis, alcohol or other drugs,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, “but the research just doesn’t support it.”
Cannabis was found in 175 — 31% — of the 572 drivers involved in fatal crashes from 2013 to 2017, according to the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. Benzodiazepine was found in 49 drivers, fentanyl in 44, cocaine in 36, morphine in 25, buprenorphine in 20, and oxycodone and benzoylecgonine in 18 each.
The campaign’s announcement does not address how long marijuana can remain in a person’s system, a period that can range from up to 36 hours in blood to up to 90 days in hair, according to American Addiction Centers.
The number of drivers involved in a fatal crash who were both alcohol-impaired and had drugs in their system increased by 63%, from 35 to 57, over the five-year period, and 78% of impaired drivers in fatal crashes were men.
“The height of the summer travel season is an opportunity for us to remind motorists about the dangers of impaired driving,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement. “Research and data show that many people do not understand or believe the link between using marijuana and impaired driving, so this campaign is designed specifically to address these myths.”
The campaign, called “Wisdom,” is meant to reach men ages 18 to 34 — the demographic most likely to be impaired drivers in fatal crashes — and was informed by focus groups made up of cannabis and alcohol users. Their feedback was used to create 30 public-service announcements that will air on TV through August and feature interviews with adult cannabis users willing to talk about their experiences with driving dangers.
Many initially did not recognize that cannabis can impair driving safety. They said that while they’re high, they might drive, but they would not watch their children or grandchildren, use power tools or attend a job interview. The few who said they would not feel comfortable driving after using marijuana were older and female.
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research shows that THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects, disrupts key parts of the brain that influence the perception of time, concentration, movement, memory and coordination — all of which are vital to safe driving. Driving within an hour after consuming marijuana at least doubles a driver’s risk of causing a crash, AAA researchers found.
“We echo the warning of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,” said Mary Maguire, a AAA Massachusetts spokeswoman. ” ‘If you feel different, you drive different.’ “