The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently determined that a person driving under the influence of marijuana isn’t more likely to get into a car crash than a person sober or under the influence of alcohol. The Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk Study was conducted in Virginia Beach, Virginia over a 20-month period and included 9,000 drivers, alcohol, cannabis and illicit drug consumption. One-third or about 3,000 drivers studied were involved in crashes during the period and the other 6,000 were not.
Accident risk was strongly associated with alcohol consumption, as the threat of a crash from drivers with a blood-alcohol level content of 0.08 percent was twice as high as that of drivers that were sober. The rate of accidents tripled to six times as high for drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.10 percent and 12 times as high if their blood-alcohol content was at 0.15 percent.
The findings for cannabis were quite different. Even though 25 percent of marijuana users were more likely to wreck than those that didn’t test positive for THC in their system, once factors such as gender, sex, age and race/ethnicity were calculated in the study, the ratio decreased drastically. The crash risk ratio was 1.25 before demographic factors were utilized in the study but was reduced to 1.05 — a decrease some consider significant.
The results showed that men are more likely to have an accident than women. In addition, teens are more likely to have accidents than adults, showing that crash risk may be more closely associated with their age or gender rather than pot usage.
Although these findings show that marijuana use doesn’t cause a substantial impact to crash risk, they don’t necessarily remove the stigma that smoking weed has no effect on motorists’ senses. In a congressional hearing over “drugged driving,” Jeff Michael, a representative of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, was asked how many crash deaths were caused by pot every year. Michael couldn’t give a definite answer, opting to affirm that the number wasn’t zero.
“Drivers should never get behind the wheel impaired and we know that marijuana impairs judgment, reaction times and awareness.”
With fewer drunk drivers on the road and the number of states with medical and recreational pot rising, the number of THC-positive drivers has increased considerably. Media outlets around the nation and numerous anti-pot advocates feel that drugged driving is the Satan-spawn of pot usage. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Highway fatalities are the lowest in Colorado history since the state legalized cannabis.
Despite report after report demonstrating that a rise in cannabis use doesn’t equal a rise in crime or accidents, there are many people against cannabis legalization because they fear it would cause safety problems in their state. Now, to further disprove the unwarranted fears of the uniformed, there’s a new study that’s recently been released to add to the accumulating information that shows cannabis isn’t as scary as some people think it is.
Do you drive while high? Do you think it impairs you? Tell us about it in the comments.