Matt Schmitz and Chris Woodyard at USA Today exemplify dishonest reporting on drugged driving

Marijuana playing larger role in fatal crashes by Matt Schmitz and Chris Woodyard at and USA Today.

This article is just another example of blatantly dishonest reporting (or, just as bad, ignorant reporting).

It may be that Matt Schmitz and Chris Woodyard are experts at cars and don’t know anything about marijuana, but if that’s true, they shouldn’t be writing articles about the two together without getting some help.

Columbia University researchers performing a toxicology examination of nearly 24,000 driving fatalities concluded that marijuana contributed to 12% of traffic deaths in 2010, tripled from a decade earlier.

Nope. They concluded nothing of the sort.

Nowhere did they say that marijuana “contributed” to traffic deaths. In fact, they went out of their way to note: “the prevalence of nonalcohol drugs reported in this study should be interpreted as an indicator of drug use, not necessarily a measurement of drug impairment.” That’s because the study measured those who tested positive, whether they were impaired or not, and that could include those who ingested marijuana days earlier.

Let’s see what else Schmitz and Woodyard have to say:

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that 4% of drivers were high during the day and more than 6% at night, and that nighttime figure more than doubled on weekends.

Nope. They never found that at all.

Nowhere did they say that the drivers were “high.” In fact, they went out of their way to note: “The reader is cautioned that drug presence does not necessarily imply impairment. For many drug types, drug presence can be detected long after any impairment that might affect driving has passed.”

All of us care about the safety of roads and realize that all kinds of things can affect drivers in different ways, and learning more of the actual facts about driving impairment is a good thing.

But irresponsible reporting that merely plays on fears with unsupported conclusions doesn’t help us make good policy decisions and therefore can actually lead to less-safe roads.

Maybe Matt and Chris should stick to telling us about carburetors.

[Thanks, Allan]

[See: Use of headlights linked to traffic fatalities]

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14 Responses to Matt Schmitz and Chris Woodyard at USA Today exemplify dishonest reporting on drugged driving

  1. B. Snow says:

    This doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident:
    (I had just posted some of this in the previous thread – and then found this new much more On Topic post.)

    I suspect this is/was going to be a new multiple-front push on their part, it may get over-shadowed due to a ‘brand-new’ school shooting in Oregon to wail & panic about, and of course the E3 Gaming Expo will suck up a lot of the public’s virtual (internet) oxygen supply.

    But, as this (dangerous driving) is their last real trump-card of any note = We can pretty much count on them trying to play it to death… (so to speak), Here’s my only slightly revised post below.

    NIDA’s got a new-ish Face, our democratic majority view’s (as represented by numerous polls over recent years) – a new “Public Enemy #1” = NIDA Deputy Director Dr. Wilson Compton.

    He was on MSNBC earlier (maybe a couple hours ago now) talking about the NIDA’s new B.S. study alleging an increasing in traffic accident deaths involving marijuana in Colorado, since it’s becoming legal.
    He was pretty vague about the numbers or when they started it – was it from the beginning of legal MMJ -Or- legal RMJ?

    This was more like a news release announcing they would soon be conducting a ritual “scaring-up” of the spectre of MADD – and if this includes some human sacrifices (due to knee-jerk reactions) – Well, that’s okay as long as we keep the roads “safe” from evil nefarious potheads… who are also btw “your chitlins” = moral panic in three, two, one…
    The fill-in host (likely directed by a producer) enabled his harping on the new ‘non-message’ – saying, “So, this is really more prevalent among people under 25, right?” (I may be paraphrasing that a teeny bit).

    His ‘message’ sounded like: “OH NOES, young adults are out on the streets driving while stoned!” – As if this is somehow a new thing, and when asked why this was a major concern? – His answer was, (basically) “Because Statistics” (statistics that he fairly recently started helping to distort, reshape, or otherwise – “fudge”.)

    The good part here is that Nora’s Face/Voice have apparently become so toxic= that NIDA is digging deeper into the bench-warmers for someone to front their bullshit! This guy happens to have worked on the pseudo-science, as well so they probably think that helps.

    Note: If I had to put money on it – my best guesstimate is that another part of his possible appeal (as a face-man) in their minds – is that he doesn’t have the – Recently, MUCH more sketchy/(scary) sounding to the general public = Ukrainian/Mexican accent that Nora does.

  2. Crut says:

    I read more at and was disappointed that all the caveats come after the scary headlines. Not only that, all the stats are presented in percentages, while I’ve heard that actual fatal crash numbers are going down. Someone cue the “How to lie with statistics” plug.

    OT: John Walters is still writing, and somehow, someone is still allowing it to be published.

    In fact, a remarkable 95 percent of those who needed treatment for a drug abuse disorder were not seeking it – that is, they are in denial.

    That is remarkable! Especially since you believe it, and that it represents a reason for continuing to arrest (not necessarily incarcerate) people.

    • Common Science says:

      Here’s a new boilerplate I left on The Hill:

      The dichotomy that Walters and Murray so enthusiastically espouse here has been determined recently to benefit a burgeoning new industry to help extinguish an informed public’s desire to re-legalize marijuana. In their bald rage to ultimately squash the many utilities of the cannabis plant, their article is rife with terminology that is fundamental to the new ‘Third way’ trafficked by the prohibitionist outfit, ‘Smart Approaches to Marihuana’ (SAM).

      The controversial fifth version of the Psychiatry tool DSM, is poised to encourage equally grandiose misdiagnosis of normal human behaviour (as a broad range of pathological disorders) for prescription drug treatment. For example: research is being committed to manufacturing a steroid that will manipulate the human brain’s natural cannabinoid receptors (CB1) just to treat marihuana intoxication. Why would the public want defendants/customers to be treated for enjoying a substance that has a lower danger of dependance, withdrawal and tolerance than caffeine?

  3. The word “contributed to” has no scientific meaning at all in these study contexts. With the “contributed to” line a reporter could include ANYTHING vaguely related as contributing to an accident. Dishonest reporting is too kind. These are outright lies spoken to embellish non substantial data as relevant. This same logic could include coffee and donuts as contributing factors to road fatalities, an erroneous conclusion that would lead to no improvement, just confusion. This kind of reporting negates the entire study by adding false information that makes it too overly broad to decipher any truthful meaning.

    These are political cronies attempting to adversely influence science and the public’s opinion of marijuana.

  4. Frank W. says:

    This “story” showed up on msnbc this morning by a guy whose name I don’t remember. Of course it’s too paranoid to worry about the DEA planting stories.

  5. N.T. Greene says:

    If cherry picking and failing to understand “correlation does not imply causation” were crimes, we’d be short anti-drug reporters in this country.

  6. allan says:

    well, since they write for I thought their email addresses might be there but not in obvious sight. However, the address works.

    I sent a short note, advising sticking to automotive stuff and skipping drug policy, also sent the link here to Pete’s post.

  7. claygooding says:

    Since two state Supreme Appeals courts have ruled that THC metabolites do not signal impairment we know just because 12% of traffic accidents having marijuana in a toxicology report has nothing to do with why the accident happened.
    But if you look at SAMSHA you find that they estimate that 12% of adults are regular marijuana users,,,is the statistic just verifying their estimate,,a chance similarity or actually proving marijuana had no influence on the accidents because there was no increase of users involved in fatal accidents???

    • War Vet says:

      I wonder what the real percentage is when it is more or less to the impairment that created the conditions for the collision? One day, we’ll have better results. I can only remember two times weed had affected my driving negatively: the first time I drove high at 16–mistaking the accelerator for the brakes and once just over a year ago because I wasn’t expecting the stop sign . . . but the 1.75 mile under the hour on a residential street kept it from getting worse. But then again, 2 Advil P.M.s after only maybe 6hrs of sleep made me a little nervous, though not as bad as the acid, mushrooms and synth pot . . . hot looking women jogging can pose some dangers as well when I give up all self control to look. I bet the actual stats will be 4.2% or lower of actual stoned drivers getting in wrecks because of cannabis being the significant factor . . . I wonder what it is for Advil P.M. and magnificent female creatures demonstrating glorious ranges of motion and spectacular movement?

      Cellphones and driving:

  8. Windy says:

    OT but important news:
    Scientists Studied What Psychedelics Do to the Brain, And It’s Not What You’ve Been Told

    It turns out that psychedelics aren’t just good for turning into an elf and jousting a car. Psychiatrists, psychologists and specialists in addiction and recovery from traumatic experiences have been investigating the use of hallucinogens in treatment programs, and the results indicate that psychedelics actually have practical therapeutic uses.

    And one drug has proven particularly useful. Repeated studies have found the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms, psilocybin, can help people move past major life issues — like beating alcoholism and becoming more empathetic.

    • War Vet says:

      I like suggesting them to friends who get major headaches quite often like cluster headaches. Problem: famers are more and more putting stuff out that keeps the mushrooms from growing out in the pasture. A good thousand one could find in a single hour if one could pick that fast out in the larger fields with a hundred plus cows–alas 90’s less aware farmer. I hear Buffalo shrooms are where its at, but that one needs to be near the fence or they’ll give chase. I’ve got my pick of both options and will pick the less hairy one. Amish country has a good pick. So did the Dutch, now they only sell truffles.

  9. Poca says:

    maybe they should get more acquainted with the kind of carburetors they sell at their local glass shop…many couch-mates know the type of shop where you cant use the “b” word b/c their glass is only for tobacco 😉

  10. Duncan20903 says:


    There’s no statistics available from the NHTSA for 2013 yet. When I consider how flippin’ long it takes bureaucrats to finalize statistics I think it hardly likely that the man above has access to any statistics. Can’t we get the Feds to buy their bean counters some computers? In this day and age we should be able to see final results for the year by January 31, and that’s if we give the bean counters 2 weeks of vacation during January. Why the heck are these people still working with abacuses, stone tablets and chisels? Why in the world are they still using the Pony Express to deliver their statistics after they’re carved in stone?


    Well, the Columbia study also said that it was 4.9%, not 4%. 12% is 244.898% higher than 4.9, not 300%

    I saw no mention of the States’ policy for testing of cadavers of drivers in fatal collisions and IIRC it was during the study period when testing for other substances in fatal collisions became ubiquitous. Of course if you triple the number of tests you’re going to triple the results.

    This one is from the “lies, damn lies, statistics and prohibitionist propaganda” category:

    VMD=Vehicle Miles Driven.

    Fatalaties per 100,000 VMD:

    2008 1.05
    2012 0.88

    2008 1.15
    2012 1.01

    2008 1.24
    2012 1.01

    2008 0.94
    2012 0.78

    2008 1.26
    2012 1.13

    Colorado’s total highway fatalities peaked in 2002 at 743. By 2011 that had fallen to 447. 743 is 66.219% higher than 447.

    Between 1994 and 2011 the fatalities per hundred million VMT fell 45% in Colorado. That was 7th best in the nation, behind Minnesota (-56%), Nevada, (-55%), Utah (-52%), Idaho (-51%), Illinois (47%), Nebraska (-46%). I excluded the District of Columbia because it’s just not validly compared to other States. I believe that there’s no speed limit higher than 50 MPH and that’s found on as many as 10 miles of road. Good luck actually doing 50 on those roads during the day. Unless I miss my guess more than 95% of the streets in DC have a 25 MPH limit. Good luck actually doing 25 MPH on those roads during the day.

    Other MMJ States: Michigan -44%, California -44%, Washington -41%, Oregon -41%, Vermont -38%, Maine -37%, New Mexico -37%, Hawaii -36%,

    Sobonce again we see the proof that you just can’t fool a prohibitionist! Well, that is unless you dress up a fatherly, scientist looking guy in a lab coat and have him deliver the propaganda in a somber tone of authoritative gravitas. Then you can get them to fall for just about anything you can possibly imagine.

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