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Legalized Pot Sparks Worry About Motorists Driving Stoned, Survey Says

By DNAinfo Staff | February 16, 2017 9:51am | Updated on February 16, 2017 10:50am
 Marijuana
Marijuana "significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination and reaction time," according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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CHICAGO — A new survey shows that most motorists are concerned that the increase in legalization of marijuana is making the roads more dangerous.

The survey by the National Safety Council, based in suburban Ithasca, found that 42 percent of those queried said that legalization's effect on road safety was "a major concern." Another 34 percent said it was "a minor concern."

Some 9 percent of respondents said they had driven high in the past month after using marijuana for medicinal purposes. Another 4 percent said they had gotten behind the wheel after using marijuana for recreational purposes.

The questions about marijuana were included in a wider survey of 2,511 motorists about driving-related behavior.

Some 27 states have laws legalizing pot in some form, including Illinois. Since 2012, Chicago has issued tickets of $250 to $500 for people caught with 15 grams or less.

Last summer, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill that makes it illegal to drive with 5 nanograms of THC, marijuana's intoxicating chemical, in a driver's blood within two hours of consumption. Before that, any trace of marijuana was enough to be cited. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana "significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination and reaction time." Some studies have shown "a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability," the Institute said.

Marijuana is the illicit drug most found in drivers who have been involved in crashes, the institute said.

However, the Institute also cites a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that found "no significant increased crash risk attributable to cannabis." But the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research said that crashes involving drivers who had recently used marijuana doubled in Washington state after it legalized the drug.

"Marijuana can affect people differently, making it challenging to develop consistent and fair guidelines," AAA said.

A Gallup poll released last year said 1 in 8 American adults say the currently smoke marijuana, or about 13 percent. That's up from 7 percent in 2013.

Overall, Illinois saw 1,078 deaths in traffic accidents in 2016, up about 6 percent from 2015, the Council reported.