With anticipation over the legal adult-use cannabis market building up, Massachusetts state officials are bracing for what they expect will be a surge in drug-related traffic accidents. To get ahead of the problem, state police, cannabis advocates and two popular ride-sharing platforms, Uber and Lyft, are teaming up to launch an education and enforcement campaign to encourage Massachusetts drivers to pledge to drive sober.
Massachusetts law enforcement and public safety officials want people to think responsibly when they consume alcohol and, soon, legal marijuana. So they’ve teamed up with representatives from Uber and Lyft to educate the public about the risks of driving drunk and driving high.
Undersecretary of the state’s Office of Public Safety and Security Jennifer Queally cited a reported uptick in stoned driving in Colorado as a major motivation for Massachusetts’ own sober driving campaign. Colorado officials agree they’re having issues with folks driving high. They even launched a public survey to gather more data about what causes cannabis consumers to get behind the wheel when they’re high.
“It’s not uncommon to hear people say, ‘I drive better when I’m high,’ Queally said. But “people do not drive better when they’re high,” she added. “If you are high or stoned, you are not a safe driver. And you are a danger to everyone on the road.”
But where state officials see a danger to drivers, ride-sharing companies see a business opportunity. “We want to make sure residents can consume marijuana and not think twice about how they’re going to get home responsibly,” said New England general manager of Lyft, Tyler George.
So Lyft teamed up with the Mass. Chief of Police Association and the Cannabis Reform Coalition. They’re pledging $50,000 in Lyft fares to dissuade impaired drivers from picking up their keys. Anyone who posts to social media pledging not to drive high will receive $4.20 in fare credits.
Are Concerns About Traffic Safety and Cannabis Use Overblown?
Expressing concerns over an influx of stoned drivers taking to the highways and byways in adult-use states has become something of a ritual for law enforcement and public safety officials. And as a result, state and municipal governments are investing millions of dollars training police to deal with drug-impaired driving. At the same time, companies are pouring money into developing roadside drug testing devices for law enforcement.
But next to driving under the influence of other intoxicants, like alcohol and prescription drugs, how does cannabis compare? In 2016, according to the CDC, 10,500 people died in alcohol-related driving crashes. And according to one recent study from PEW, half of the drivers who died and tested positive for drugs had two or more in their system. Similarly, half of the drivers whose toxicology screening turned up alcohol also tested positive for drugs.
However, there’s not much data about traffic fatalities or even accidents that drivers under the influence of cannabis cause. Law enforcement agencies don’t even keep such data. Officials can provide direct evidence of alcohol, opioids and pharmaceuticals causing traffic deaths. But right now, there’s no clear data about fatalities solely due to cannabis intoxication.