New Report Recommends Tips for Successful Cannabis-Impaired Driving Campaigns

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) commissioned a report about educational campaigns on cannabis and driving on July 26. The GHSA partnered with National Alliance to Stop Impaired Driving to create a playbook written specifically for State Highway Safety Offices (SHSO).

Governors Highway Safety Association’s Executive Director, Jonathan Adkins, explained the need for a playbook that is up to date regarding cannabis legalization, overall acceptance of cannabis by consumers, and more. “As legal cannabis use becomes more widespread in the U.S., motorists need to know the dangers of driving under the influence,” said Adkins. “But that message won’t be heard if it’s outdated, irrelevant or insulting to cannabis consumers. This new report offers a playbook to help states develop messaging that resonates with cannabis users and prompts them to refrain from driving for their own safety and the safety of everyone else on the road.”

The report, called “Cannabis Consumers and Safe Driving: Responsible Use Messaging,” is based on a variety of surveys and interviews, and expands upon an unpublished 2021 Cannabis Regulators Association white paper with “additional strategies and recommendations about promising practices that can enhance safety partnerships and increase the effectiveness of outreach and education on cannabis use and driving.”

The report states that prior to the pandemic, approximately 21% of drivers involved in fatal vehicle crashes had THC in their systems. During the pandemic, this percentage rose to 33% (and for comparison, the percentage of people with alcohol in their systems was only 29%). In a survey conducted by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Culture Index, drivers view impairment of alcohol and cannabis differently. When asked about driving while under the influence of alcohol, 95% of people believed it was “very or extremely dangerous.” When asked the same question about cannabis, only 69% responded with the same answer.

The GHSA report writes that further education is key to promoting safe driving and enforcement. It reviewed educational campaigns that have been implemented in Colorado and Washington, which were the first states to legalize cannabis. It also addressed current education efforts that learn from those earlier campaigns, such as the “simple, non-judgmental” messages in Connecticut that have been promoted on social media channels, radio, TV, billboards, bus panels, and printed materials. While cannabis became legal in Connecticut on July 1, 2021, retail sales won’t begin until later this year. However, the report also examines an educational campaign in Wyoming, where cannabis is currently still illegal.

After reviewing the content, the report addresses “promising practices” that the authors view as useful for developing education campaigns, such as partnering with cannabis industry groups, receiving dedicated funding, and using specific wording in campaign messages.

In more detail, the report’s five main recommendations explore campaign success based on the presented examples.

First, it recommends that funding be derived from cannabis sales tax revenue, in partnership with local state legislators. Second, it highly recommends partnering with a variety of cannabis groups with the shared goal of consumer safety. “Working together, collaborative education campaigns can reflect the desires of all partners to help keep cannabis consumers safe,” the report explained.

Third, the report also explained the importance of the campaign messengers. Government leaders and institutions are “generally not good choices,” so it’s essential to choose respected individuals who are a part of the cannabis community to get the point across. The specific words chosen for a campaign can also lend to its success and maintain credibility, such as avoiding archaic terms such as pot or weed, or using “consumer” instead of “user.”

Finally, the report states that a campaign message should be chosen with care and respect. “Insulting or judging the target audience rarely improves message reception and turns people off, resulting in the message getting lost. Not driving after using cannabis should be the primary focus of informational campaigns, not the use of cannabis itself,” the report explains. “Messaging that appeals to the risks versus rewards of driving after consuming cannabis can be effective with the target audience, which tends to be young and male. Because it is not clear what responsible use of cannabis really is or looks like, appeals to moral sensitivity—normative choices that are considered ‘good’ or ‘right’—may have a greater effect on changing behavior than the usual ‘just don’t do it’ messaging.”

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