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Sobering statistics: Traffic Safety Commission highlights danger of ‘poly-drug’ driving

In this Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 photo, Fullerton, Calif. police officer Jae Song conducts a field sobriety test on driver suspected of driving while impaired by marijuana. The Washington Traffic Safety Commission has released a number of sobering statistics on the danger of driving under the influence of multiple drugs, of which marijuana and alcohol are the most common combination. (Bill Alkofer / AP)
In this Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016 photo, Fullerton, Calif. police officer Jae Song conducts a field sobriety test on driver suspected of driving while impaired by marijuana. The Washington Traffic Safety Commission has released a number of sobering statistics on the danger of driving under the influence of multiple drugs, of which marijuana and alcohol are the most common combination. (Bill Alkofer / AP)

In unofficial recognition of “4/20,” marijuana’s unofficial high holiday, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission recently published a number of sobering statistics on traffic-related collisions and fatalities involving the mixture of alcohol and marijuana.

Released Monday, the WTSC report shows that multiple-drug use or “poly-drug” use was the most common type of impairment among Washington drivers who died in traffic collisions from 2008 to 2016. It was double the number of alcohol-only fatal collisions, and five times higher than the number of marijuana-only collisions.

The most common combination of drugs, according to the report, was alcohol and marijuana.

“When we talk about, really, the worst thing that can happen on the road, these are the severely impaired individuals here,” said Dr. Staci Hoff, a researcher at the WTSC who authored the report.

Since record keeping began, Hoff said there had been a consistent increase in the number of fatal crashes involving two types of drugs until 2012, when it became the most prevalent type of impairment.

Hoff said the study only involved drivers who had an alcohol or blood test performed after death. Among those, 44 percent were poly-drug drivers, 38 percent were alcohol-only, and 6 percent were marijuana, or THC, only.

The most startling statistic, though, was the number of young drivers who, when surveyed, reported that they drove better under the effect of marijuana.

“It’s not like THC and marijuana are innocent,” she said.

Among drivers aged 15 to 20, Hoff said, more than half believed they were better drivers after consuming THC. Only 21 percent of drivers aged 21 to 25 believed that.

Hoff said the greater danger is instances when young people drink alcohol and, after experiencing the effect, try to counteract the buzz with marijuana.

“That’s absolutely the wrong perception,” she said.

Jeff Sevigney, spokesman for the Washington State Patrol office in Eastern Washington, said troopers would be more vigilant Friday afternoon and evening for drivers under the influence.

He said certain holidays naturally bring more impaired drivers to the road.

“Obviously, our senses are much higher during times when we know that folks might be more apt to go out and indulge and have a good time,” he said. “Certainly that’s legal to do. We just hope you do it responsibly and have plans in place prior to festivities.”


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