Traffic Deaths Spike on 4/20

By: Kyle Magin April 16, 2018
Getting high and driving on 4/20 has real-life consequences, according to researchers: U.S. traffic deaths rise noticeably on April 20th.
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Driving Friday could be hazardous to your health, whether or not you “celebrate” the stoner’s High Holiday.

Friday, of course, is April 20, or "4/20," as the shorthand is colloquially known to marijuana enthusiasts who observe the date in reverence of the 420 code, which is widely used to refer to anything weed-related. Ever since its supposed original creation by a group of California high schoolers in the 1970s, 4/20 is typically associated with harmless things like eating too many Hot Cheetos and watching the Spicoli scenes from Fast Times at Ridgemont High—until now.

It turns out that one activity is especially dangerous after ingesting or inhaling weed: driving.

Since 2004, there has been a 12% increase in traffic deaths on 4/20 after 4:20 p.m., according to a February study released by a pair of Canadian scientists.

The report’s authors compared traffic fatalities reported to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration between 1992 and 2016 against other fair-weather days a week before and after the unofficial holiday, and noted the significant spike.

The risk of high driving especially impacts young drivers, as the chance for fatal crashes increased by 38% for drivers under 21 years old after 4:20 p.m. on 4/20, according to the report.

As more states have moved to legalize marijuana, the prevalence of driving high could increase—Friday marks the first time Californians will observe 4/20 since legalized marijuana sales went into effect on Jan. 1 this year.

One-fifth of Americans now live in states that have legalized recreational cannabis, and legalization is set to occur for all Canadians in July 2018,” said John Staples, the study’s lead researcher and a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. “We hope that legalization doesn’t lead to more people driving while high.”

Recreational users certainly buy more marijuana on 4/20, according to data collected in both Colorado and Washington, two states where marijuana has been legal for nearly six years. In 2016, Colorado marijuana dispensaries set a one-day record to that point, selling $7.3 million worth of marijuana on 4/20, up from a previous high of $6.1 million; on that same day in Washington, the state’s dispensaries sold $5.5 million worth of weed, a twofold increase from 2015.

While lawmakers have struggled to find ways to regulate marijuana use on public roads, at least one company is hoping to help stoners stay off the streets today: rideshare firm Lyft. In Las Vegas, where recreational marijuana sales became legal on July 1, 2017, Lyft is offering its users a $4.20 discount on two 4/20 rides. The campaign, in conjunction with Nevada's Zero Fatalities campaign and Vegas-based Essence dispensary, aims to “help keep the community safe”—truly a cause worth celebrating.

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