Marijuana-Impaired Driving a Growing Public Safety Concern

Amid discussions of changes to marijuana policy in Maine, growing concerns amongst members of the Healthy Androscoggin community coalition about impact on impaired driving.

LEWISTON – December is National Impaired Driving Prevention Month in the United States.  A lot of focus of impaired driving prevention over the past two or three decades has been on alcohol.  Here in Androscoggin County, the efforts of Healthy Androscoggin, the Androscoggin County Alcohol Enforcement Team, and the community-based substance abuse prevention task force Project Unite! have served to greatly impact drunk driving.

Now, with discussions of marijuana legalization in Maine taking place, increased focus is being put on marijuana-impaired driving and its impact on public safety.  Many community members are questioning what impact marijuana legalization in Maine would have on the prevalence of marijuana-impaired driving.

The latest science on the effects of marijuana on the brain and body explains how the drug can significantly alter the ability of an individual to drive a vehicle safely.  For most, a single potent dose of marijuana would interfere with fundamental driving skills.[i]  The typical effect is significantly diminished psychomotor performance.  Psychomotor skills are essential for the basics of driving; steering, braking, and shifting between gears.  Studies also show that attentiveness, vigilance, and perception of time and speed are all impacted by marijuana use.[ii]

This combination of effects is what leads to a marijuana-impaired driver being a significant danger to themselves, and others on the road.  Research shows that regular marijuana use will double the risk of a motor vehicle crash.[iii]  Marijuana drivers may try to compensate for the effects of the drug by driving slower.  But with a delayed reaction time and diminished steering and braking skills, any unexpected road conditions will negate those attempts to compensate.  This can lead to a vehicle crash that injures the driver, passengers, and potentially other motorists in their path.

A comprehensive report out of Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 and had pot dispensaries go operational in 2014, indicate that such a policy change may compound already serious problems with marijuana-impaired driving.  Data from this report shows that in the first 6 months of 2014, there was a 100% increase in traffic fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana.  Larimer County Sheriff’s Department Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) reports showed that in 2013, 95% of the 131 DUID arrests tested positive for marijuana.

Marijuana-impaired driving is already an issue in Maine.  Data from the Maine Department of Transportation collected in 2009 and 2010 shows that in the impaired driving cases where a drug recognition expert was called in, cannabinoids, the drug class that includes marijuana, ranked as the number one drug found.[iv]

Many community members, including coalition members of Healthy Androscoggin have concerns about how a policy of marijuana legalization could result in increases in  impaired driving.  “I think many in our community wonder if increasing access and availability to marijuana might create more problems on our roads similarly to what they seem to be seeing in Colorado and Washington.”, comments Scott Gagnon, substance abuse prevention manager for Healthy Androscoggin.  “Our role in this ongoing policy discussion is to educate community members, leaders, and other stakeholders on the science and effects of today’s marijuana.”

Healthy Androscoggin has a new presentation on marijuana it can provide to organizations and community groups.  The presentation was developed by the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health services and its Marijuana Workgroup. It features the latest science on marijuana, its impacts on the brain and body, and impacts on public safety.  Healthy Androscoggin can provide this training, for free, to any organization or community group in Androscoggin County.  For more information on having a presentation provided to your organization, call 795-2120 or visit the Healthy Androscoggin website at

Healthy Androscoggin is the Drug Free Communities coalition serving Androscoggin County.  Its major goals are to increase community collaboration and to prevent and reduce youth substance abuse. 

[i] Mack, A & Joy, J. (2001) Marijuana as Medicine? The Science Beyond the Controversy. Washington,   D.C.: National Academy Press

[ii] O’Kane C.J., Tutt, D.C. & Bauer, L.A. (2002) Cannabis and driving: A new perspective. Emergency Medicine. 14, 296-303

[iii] M. Asbridge, J.A. Hayden, J.L. Cartwright. (2012) Acute cannabis consumption and motor vehicle collision risk; systematic review of observational studies and meta-analysis.  British Medical Journal,  344 : e536: DOI:

[iv] Maine Department of Transportation. (December 2010) Drug and Alcohol Crash Related Data. Augusta, ME: Author