With Tuesday, April 20, being “4/20” — an unofficial but growing-in-popularity occasion for recreational marijuana use or for celebrating recreational marijuana — AAA last week issued a reminder and a warning about the dangers of impaired driving.
“Often some of the most dangerous drivers on the road” are those who use alcohol and marijuana — and “not necessarily at the same time,” AAA said, citing its research released in January. The research found that “drivers who consumed marijuana and alcohol within a 30-day period were more likely to engage in risky behavior like speeding, texting, intentionally running red lights, and aggressive driving.”
Any judgment- or reactions-altering drug use can be added to alcohol and marijuana when it comes to also operating a motor vehicle.
And not just on April 20. Plenty of celebratory occasions are coming up that also could serve as a time peg for the sage advice to always drive with a clear head, including Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, the fishing opener, summer vacations, and even the feelings of freedom from COVID-19 vaccinations.
Despite its focus on April 20 and on alcohol and marijuana use alone, the AAA’s warnings are certainly worthy of our reflection, consideration, and, perhaps most importantly, better decision-making to avoid reckless, life-threatening behavior.
The warnings were particularly poignant because they dropped the same week as a Minnesota Department of Health report that alcohol-related deaths rose in Minnesota in 2020. Fears are being realized that soaring unemployment and isolation from lockdowns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic would lead to an increase in irresponsible drinking. A total of 992 Minnesotans died last year from alcohol-related causes, including chronic liver disease and acute alcohol poisoning, as Forum News Service reported. Deaths fully due to alcohol increased 21% from 2019’s 821. Even worse, health officials believe 2020’s tally is an undercount — and "only the tip of the iceberg."
Motorists who use both alcohol and marijuana are significantly more likely to drive under the influence of alcohol, compared to motorists who only drink alcohol, the AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety found, referring to this as “double trouble.” Such motorists also are more likely to engage in dangerous driving. Additionally, motorists who drive high are at least twice as likely to be involved in a crash.
Not surprisingly, the study further found that drivers who neither drink alcohol nor use marijuana are considerably less likely to engage in risky driving.
And apparently some drivers think marijuana makes them better behind the wheel, the AAA said. The evidence clearly does not support that notion.
The analysis focused on alcohol and marijuana because they are the most widely used drugs in the U.S.: 139.8 million Americans 12 or older reported drinking alcohol in the past month, and 43.5 million reported using marijuana in the past year, stated the auto club.
“It’s important that drivers know the risk that comes with these two drugs and never drive impaired,” AAA spokesman Nick Faustman said in a statement.
The auto club’s warning and reminder were certainly worthwhile — and would be no matter what day it is or what brain-fogging, reaction times-slowing substance is being dangerously and foolishly combined with driving.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Duluth News Tribune.