02 Jul Does Marijuana User = Unsafe Driver?
The country has been waging battle over legalizing marijuana. With that comes many additional concerns on the effect of legalization, including increased addiction rates and highway safety. Since medical marijuana sales were approved in Washington, Hawaii and California there has been a 6.6 percent increase in the number of drivers killed in a car crash with the substance in their system.
Legalization and Highway Deaths
The drug is now legal to use recreationally in Washington and Colorado, which will mean that even more people will be using it before they get behind the wheel of a car. No one is 100 percent certain how those increases will affect traffic fatalities, but the outlook is not promising.
Those in favor of legalization claim that using and driving poses no danger and that science is on their side. Marijuana has only a mild impact on a person’s motor skills they say. In fact, there is a contingency of marijuana users who believe that using the substance makes them better drivers. However, no matter how many make the claim, there is no evidence to back up the assertion. Quite the reverse. One article in Clinical Chemistry has reported that THC (the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) in the blood leads to significantly impaired driving.
Who to Believe?
A study is currently underway to try and answer the question once and for all. Researchers have recruited 72 young men who are admitted pot users. The men were asked how often they attempted to drive within an hour of marijuana use during the past year. They were also asked to assess their driving and to list the number of moving traffic violations for which they’d been ticketed in that time frame.
Next the men entered the driving simulator to evaluate driving ability. Researchers are reporting a clear link between the frequency of driving high and the number of traffic tickets received based on the user’s own words.
Another study yields insight into driving ability following cannabis use. This study had participants smoke a THC-laced cigarette before entering the driving simulator. Driving skills were measured while the driver was high and again while sober. The results showed that it doesn’t take much marijuana at all to make someone a risky driver. High drivers had trouble determining safe driving distances between cars, for example. This particular study also measured the effects on driving when a person used both alcohol and marijuana. That combination led to a 20 percent increase in reckless driving behaviors.
At the end of the day, while marijuana users may think they are safe drivers the data does not back up those claims. And since marijuana does impair judgment, are users in any position to make an assessment about their own driving skills?
The state of Colorado released a series of public service ads over the television which showed how using marijuana makes the brain fuzzy (in one a man can’t get his barbecue to work because he doesn’t have fuel but he is slow to figure out what the problem is). The point of the PSAs was to encourage pot smokers to stay out of their cars while under the influence.
When the door opened for medical marijuana use, more drivers died on the highways. As states open that door further to allow recreational use, most experts expect to see the number of traffic fatalities increase correspondingly.
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