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Drivers in the Attleboro area, the state will now include a section on driving with cannabis

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In 1978’s “Up in Smoke,” pop comedy duo Cheech and Chong get plenty of laughs as they make fun of rock-driving.

In one scene, their car fills with white smoke as they drive down the highway after smoking an oversized joint. They end up on a traffic island without realizing it shortly before the cops arrive.

In Massachusetts, where voters legalized recreational marijuana for people 21 and older, officials are taking cannabis with a driving impairment more seriously.

After January 1, Massachusetts will become the first state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana use to adopt an educational cannabis curriculum to educate drivers, according to the Motor Vehicle Registry.

The driver education curriculum previously referred to alcohol and drugs in general. But it will now include a special section on cannabis-ridden driving, according to the RMV.

Tom Murray, co-owner of the Teachers Driving Academy in Norton, says young drivers need to know the dangers of driving under the influence of marijuana as well as alcohol.

Murray says he’s seen enough statistics and news stories about crashes between teens and marijuana to convince him of the need for a new approach.

Since recreational marijuana was legalized, Murray said, “We’ve seen an increase in motor vehicle accidents involving drivers from 16 to 23 years old. You could say it’s a coincidence but it’s not.”

“A lot of kids say they use marijuana because it’s easy to disguise,” he said, adding that kids use marijuana or e-cigarettes.

“We have to make these kids aware of what’s going on,” Murray said.

He pointed to Colorado, which was the first to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of fatalities in crashes in which drivers tested positive for THC increased from 18 in 2013 to 77 in 2016.

A new AAA Traffic Safety study finds that the number of Washington drivers who test positive for marijuana after a fatal crash has doubled — from about 9% to about 18% — since the state legalized it in 2012.

However, the study authors only found an association between legalization and an increasing number of drivers involved in fatal crashes who tested positive, not an actual causal relationship.

The new curriculum that addresses driving impairment will be updated to include information on cannabis, including how THC — the active chemical in marijuana — affects cognition, vision, reaction time, and time and distance perception.

The new curriculum, called Shifting Gears: The Straight Truth About Marijuana and Driving, was designed by AAA Northeast and taught in part through an informative, easy-to-follow 25-minute video tutorial.

In the video, AAA Northeast’s Diana Gugliotta says, “Research shows that it is difficult for drivers with marijuana disabilities to remain centered in their lane of travel. They tend to veer into another lane and even into oncoming traffic.”

“A lot of people don’t understand that marijuana is just as dangerous as alcohol,” Gugliotta said.

Attleboro Police Chief Kyle Hegney supports the new approach, saying that marijuana is more powerful than it was in the 1960s or 1970s.

“I think that would be helpful. I don’t think many new drivers understand the ramifications of THC driving.

Administered by the RMV, Massachusetts Driver Education requires all new drivers under the age of 18 to complete 30 hours of classroom instruction, 12 hours of instruction behind the wheel and six hours of observation while a student takes over-the-wheel instruction.

“Today’s young drivers in Massachusetts are the first generation to get behind the wheel since cannabis became legal in the state. Given that it is extremely important that they also understand how THC can affect the body including the risks associated with the disruptive cannabis driving.”

Fortunately, unlike previous generations, many kids and college students now use ride-sharing services to avoid impaired driving, said Murray, who has been teaching social studies at Foxboro High School for 25 years.

“They are making better decisions. I think this generation is making better decisions than the previous generation.

AAA video link is youtu.be/AcB6yJpMvqg

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