Drugged driving deaths increase in Hawaii

Published On: Mar 02 2014 02:42:00 PM HST

Is marijuana making our roads safer or more dangerous? National studies are mixed on drivers under the influence of pot, but Hawaii statistics show a clear trend.

Click here to see Paul Drewes' report.

As a medical marijuana user, Joe Rattner has seen his health improve by using the drug.

"It relaxes me completely from my brain to my bodily functions. So I go about my day a little easier," said Rattner.

A recent study also suggests medical marijuana may have made roads safer.
It is based on national accident reports, and determined states that allowed medical marijuana saw a significant decrease in traffic fatalities during the first year of the program.

In Hawaii, the numbers didn't drop they actually increased from 132 deaths in 2000 to 140 in 2001.

The study suggested drivers substituted pot for alcohol, but overall there hasn't been much of a change with alcohol and fatal accidents.

Nearly 50 percent of drivers tested in those deadly accidents, tested positive for alcohol. That was true before and after the introduction of medical marijuana.
Other studies found marijuana affects driving behavior differently than alcohol, although there were some similarities.

"There is some decreased reflexes with medical marijuana or marijuana in general," said Big Island ER physician Dr. Josh Green.

"It totally slows your reaction down. Your reaction time is totally minimized. You are even thinking about other things than what you should be doing while driving," said Rattner.

Distracted driving or more like drunk driving? That can depend on the user.

According to Honolulu Police Department officers when they pull over drivers, they test for impairment. Which means some long-time or frequent marijuana users may still have the balance and adequate reflexes to pass even if they are high.

One of the statistics that is significant since the introduction of medical marijuana in Hawaii, is the percentage of drivers involved in fatal crashes that tested positive for THC - the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.  Since 2001, that amount has tripled from five to 15 percent.

"Any decrease in your capacity to swerve and get out of the way of an accident is bad -- don't do it," said Green.

Unlike a breathalyzer or blood test that determines how much alcohol is in a driver's system at a particular time, THC can remain in the bloodstream for days or weeks -- which means more frequent users could have high levels even if they did not use marijuana just before being tested.

25 facts about marijuana

Click here to see 25 facts about marijuana.


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