Survey: More than 40 percent of those who smoked pot in last year drove within two hours

By Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News

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OLYMPIA — A survey of drivers in six counties in the state found that nearly seven out of 10 had used marijuana at some point in their lives and more than 40 percent of those who had used it within the past year had driven a couple of hours after marijuana use, the state Traffic Safety Commission announced this week.

A total of 943 people agreed to the voluntary, anonymous survey, although not all answered all questions or agreed to all tests.

Neither Clallam nor Jefferson County drivers were surveyed. The June survey was done in Kitsap, King, Spokane, Yakima, Snohomish and Whatcom counties, said Jonna VanDyk, program manager with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

In the survey, which was conducted before July's legal start date of retail marijuana sales after the 2012 passage of Initiative 502, a total of 615 drivers out of 888, or 69.3 percent, who answered the question said they had used marijuana at some time, even if it was just once.

Of the 220 who said they had used it in the past year, 97, or 44.1 percent, said they had used marijuana within two hours prior to driving.

The preliminary results announced this week are from the first of three surveys, VanDyk said.

The second was completed in November, and a third is planned for next June, she said.

A final report on all the results is expected four or five months after the third survey is done, she added.

That report will include more than information on marijuana and driving; it will provide data on 75 classifications of drugs and drug levels.

“What we want to know is, what does our impaired-driving picture look like?” VanDyk said.

“How many drivers are driving with drugs in their system at levels that are impairing?”

The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation of Calverton, Md., is under contract with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to gather the data, she said, adding that the contract is about $300,000.

The firm set up sites at five busy intersections in each of the six counties and asked drivers to participate in a voluntary survey, for which they would be paid $60 each, she said.

Those who agreed pulled off the road from the intersection into an area set aside for the interviews,

Of those, 926 were interviewed, 893 answered at least some of the questions in a marijuana questionnaire, 917 provided a breath sample, 902 provided a saliva sample and 711 allowed blood to be drawn for testing.

Those who said they had at some time used marijuana within two hours of driving were asked if they felt it had affected their driving ability.

Sixty people, 61.9 percent, said they did not think made it difference, while nearly a quarter, 24.7 percent, thought their driving improved under the influence, the report said.

“It's extremely troubling to me that so many marijuana users think that driving high is not a problem. It's a serious problem,” said Darrin Grondel, state Traffic Safety Commission director.

From 2009 through 2013, more than 1,000 people died in impaired-driving collisions in Washington state, the commission reported.

“Impaired driving is involved in nearly half of all traffic deaths and more than 20 percent of serious injury collisions,” it said.

Information on the survey and its results can be found at www.wtsc.wa.gov/pire.

Information on the Washington Traffic Safety Commission can be found on the agency website, www.wtsc.wa.gov.

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Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or at leah.leach@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 12. 2014 2:11AM
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