MADD raises awareness of the dangers of cannabis-impaired driving


Denver — MADD joined the Colorado State Patrol (CPS), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Uber and others here today to remind everyone to take the high road this April 20 and never drive under the influence of any impairing substance, including cannabis. 

“I know firsthand that driving under the influence can end in tragedy,” said MADD National President Helen Witty. “My 16-year-old daughter, Helen Marie, was rollerblading on a bike path near our home when a marijuana- and alcohol-impaired teen driver ran off the road and struck her. Today would have been her 35th birthday. Helen Marie died an instant, violent death and my life changed forever — all because of one person’s choice to drive impaired.”

MADD and its traffic safety partners have teamed up to remind everyone to get a safe ride home on April 20 — an unofficial cannabis holiday — and any time plans include drugs such as cannabis and alcohol.

While using either cannabis or alcohol alone can cause impairment, combining the two increases the risk of getting into a crash.

Driving while high is impaired driving — and can result in a DUI. Since Colorado became one of the first states to legalize recreational cannabis in 2014, the CPS has issued nearly 4,000 cannabis-related DUI citations. And the numbers are growing.

 From 2017 to 2018, the patrol saw a 25 percent increase in cannabis DUI citations and a 112 percent increase in DUI citations involving both cannabis and alcohol. More than 20 percent of DUI citations involved cannabis.  

The CPS is specially trained to detect cannabis impairment, and troopers will be out in full force this weekend to raise awareness, educate drivers and enforce the laws. 

“The Colorado State Patrol is committed to your safety. If you choose to participate in 420 celebrations, please remember that there is no acceptable reason to drive under the influence. We will use all available resources to reduce the number of impaired drivers on Colorado roads,” said Col. Matt Packard, chief of the CPS.  

“MADD is honored to partner with the Colorado State Patrol, and I’m thankful for all the brave men and women who work to keep our roads safe every day,” said MADD Colorado Executive Director Fran Lanzer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the main active ingredient in cannabis, delta-9-THC, affects areas of the brain that control the body’s movements, balance, coordination, memory and judgment — all skills needed to drive safely.

“Marijuana does not make you a better driver. In fact, it can slow reaction time, interfere with your ability to make decisions, distort perception and make it harder to solve problems,” Witty said.

Like Witty, Ed and Denise Hill of Colorado understand the impact of impaired driving.

“Less than one year ago, our daughter, Amanda, was hit head-on by a driver high on marijuana. Our beautiful daughter lost her life due to the injuries she sustained. That one decision to drive impaired changed many lives that day,” the Hills said.

Amanda Hill was just 24.

“With light rail, buses, taxis, and rideshare services like Uber, there’s never an excuse to drive high,” Lanzer said. 

“Technology has made getting a safe ride home as easy as pushing a button,” said Uber Colorado General Manger Dave Britton. “Marijuana-impaired driving is 100 percent preventable. By providing safe ride options, we want to empower everyone to make the safe choice this 420.”

According to Canadian researchers who studied 25 years of data on fatal crashes in the U.S., the risk of being in a fatal crash is 12 percent higher from 4:20 p.m. to midnight on April 20 compared to the same time one week earlier. For drivers younger than 21, the risk is 38 percent higher. The findings were published a year ago in a research letter in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

“We urge everyone to make wise choices and plan ahead,” the Hills said. “The life you save may be your own — or a loved one.”

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