Accident Stats Show No Evidence of DUI Crisis in California

UPDATE 12:20 PM - AB2500 FAILED TO PASS THE ASSEMBLY PUBLIC SAFETY COMMITTEE. Thanks to all the NORML members and supporters who wrote in about this bill.

April 29, 2014 - The growing popularity of marijuana has raised public worries about the risk of an increase in driving accidents due to marijuana DUIs. Fortunately, the most recent federal highway safety statistics show no evidence of a MJ/drug driving epidemic. According to data from NHTSA's Fatal Accident Recording System (FARS), the number of fatal highway accidents in California declined from 3,148 to 2,632 between 1999 and 2012; in the same period, the number of accident victims testing positive for marijuana increased from 105 to 402. In short, highway safety actually improved while marijuana use increased in the past decade (this is true not only in California, but also nationwide). CA DUI arrests have likewise declined in the same period.

A closer examination of the data shows that marijuana use jumped suddenly around 2003-5, but has held steady ever since. Soon thereafter, accidents dropped substantially in 2006-2010 and are now 20% below their levels in the early 2000s. (See graph above.) Parallel trends have occurred nationwide. In the latest poll, a 54%-39% majority of Colorado voters say driving hasn't become more dangerous because of legal marijuana. In short, there is no evidence of a pot DUI crisis - increased marijuana use is evidently compatible with improved driving safety.

On Tuesday, April 29th, the California Assembly Public Safety Committee will be hearing a bill (AB 2500 - Frazier) to set mandatory per se DUI limits on marijuana and other drugs based on blood testing. The Frazier bill would set a DUI threshold of 2 nanograms/milligram of THC in blood, a level that has been shown to persist in regular users for as long as six days after last use. The government's own scientific experts admit that chemical tests are incapable of measuring impairment for marijuana and most other drugs except for alcohol. NORML opposes per se DUI limits on the grounds they will inevitably criminalize many unimpaired drivers as DUI.

The top line in the graph records the total number of fatal crashes in CA; the bottom is the number of accident victims testing positive for marijuana. Positive tests don't imply necessary impairment, but reflect increasing popularity of marijuana use.

Also see: Bill Analysis

Zero-Tolerance DUI Bill Amended to Per-Se Limit

Sober DUI Bill Dies in Sacramento; Alcoholics Go Untreated East Bay Express April 30, 2014