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MADD Survey Reveals Misconceptions Around Cannabis, Driving

California state trooper
Don Thompson
The new survey measured the American public’s attitudes and knowledge about the impact of marijuana on traffic safety.";

New research funded by State Farm shows there are still misconceptions about cannabis and driving safety -- and that 1 in 8 adults admits to having driven under the influence of marijuana.

The new Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) survey also found 76% of the American public believe incidents of driving after consuming marijuana will increase and 26% think that driving after recent consumption of marijuana is “not too concerning” or “not at all concerning.” It also found there is uncertainty whether it is legal to drive impaired by marijuana; just 40% view this as a serious crime.

MADD National President Helen Witty explained that 1 in 4 drivers who are injured in a crash have had THC (the compound that gives pot its high) in their systems. MADD hopes to shatter the myth of cannabis not being a dangerous substance while driving.

Witty points out that there is not as much research for cannabis as there is for alcohol. Cannabis became legal in Illinois on Jan. 1.

“That's the problem. A lot of states are legalizing this drug before all the research is out there. I mean, we know certain things -- we know that marijuana impairs the brain and especially impairs the parts of the brain responsible for the way you move your body, for your balance, for your judgment. All these things are needed to drive,” said Witty.

Alcohol, which is legal everywhere, remains the No. 1 killer on the road. But to amplify the need for research, MADD uses the power of stories from courageous victims.

“In Colorado I've worked with a victim family, the Hill family, whose daughter Amanda was run down on an afternoon, was actually hit head-on by a marijuana-impaired driver and killed. 24 years old and her life was ended,” said Witty.

MADD’s survey measures America’s public attitude and knowledge about cannabis on the roads.

The cannabis survey was funded by Bloomington-based State Farm and General Motors. State Farm has previously supported MADD with its underage drinking program.

The mission of MADD organization is to eliminate drunk and drugged driving, support victims and to work toward a future with no more innocent lives lost.

“I want to urge everyone to always make sure that the driver of the car they're getting into is completely without any impairment,” said Witty. “Today’s underage drinker is tomorrow’s drunk driver.” 

Reducing underage drinking and drug use can help to prevent future impaired drivers, she said.

Witty said she believes it is crucial to stay informed.

“I know firsthand because my daughter, who was 16, was rollerblading on a bike path on a bright and sunny afternoon. She was on her way home, close to our home, when she was run down by a girl who was drunk on alcohol and impaired also on marijuana -- THC. My daughter looked up on that bike path, saw the car on the bike path spinning toward her, and there was nothing she could do but die.”

As more states legalize marijuana, MADD says more young people are using the drug along with alcohol. MADD says 1 in 3 young people who drink alcohol have also combined it with marijuana.

“The combination of alcohol and marijuana is more deadly than the use of one,” said Witty.

MADD encourages everyone to visit its website to stay informed, raise awareness and hear from families who have lost loved ones.

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Camberyn Kelley is a WGLT intern focused on reporting and online writing. She is also a student in Illinois State University's School of Communication.