Editorial: Tragedy underscores unanswered questions about pot and driving

It happened in the span of seconds and pain and loss will linger for a lifetime in the wake of Sunday evening’s fatal crash in Revere that killed a 5-year-old girl.

Prosecutors said the Boston woman driving the SUV that struck and killed Adrianna Mejia-Rivera may have been impaired by a combination of beer, sleep medication and “CBD oil.” Autumn Harris pleaded not guilty to charges filed in court against her on Monday.

The fatal crash plummeted a Revere family into mourning and prompted Revere Mayor Brian M. Arrigo to mobilize a crisis team to counsel the girl’s classmates through a tragedy that struck two weeks before Christmas.

Maureen Harris on Monday quoted her daughter as saying, “I don’t know, all of a sudden, it just happened.”

Those words are drenched with horror and sadness and, fair or not, they will underscore questions about what role cannabinoid oil played in the deadly accident. The oil is derived from pot plants but, according to a published report Tuesday, is not psychoactive like the ingredient THC in marijuana.

Psychoactive or not, marijuana and its entrance once and for all into the marketplace, raises questions about the role it plays in driver impairment and future traffic accidents.

Police officers and attorneys are quick to point out that many factors contribute to the split second inattention or loss of vehicle control that takes a life. Weather, vehicle condition, road condition, lighting, driver experience, driver distraction — that’s just the start of the list of contributing factors.

Marijuana users and entrepreneurs scoff at the idea that pot in its many ingestible forms plays a role in traffic accidents even proximate to the one played by alcohol. They may be right; police and prosecutors admit to not having fool proof, much less time-tested, ways of verifying a driver is impaired by marijuana.

But the push to improve traffic safety is at the top of city and town governing board agendas and on the priority list for advocacy groups.

Saugus and Swampscott are among communities weighing 25 mile-an-hour speed limits. Bicycle advocacy groups display a white “ghost bike” following every two-wheeled fatality, and police have not slackened in their warnings about driving and texting.

The debate over legalizing marijuana is over. Pot has become a new industry. But with the product rollouts and profits is sure to come scrutiny over the drug’s contribution to driver impairment when marijuana is used alone or in combination with alcohol or medication.

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