Is Driving While High more Dangerous than Driving Drunk?
- October 20, 2015
- Car Accidents
The parade to legalize marijuana has started its march around our nation and even though the drug will only be authorized for medical and maybe recreational use, there is little doubt the number of people who will be driving under the influence will increase. We are not sheltered from the marijuana legalization process in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In June 2015, our state government signed into law the authorization to use a particular cannabis drug for relief from epilepsy. This may not be outright legalization but we can clearly see the writing on the wall.
For decades, we have been dealing with drunk drivers, passing stricter and stricter rules and starting media campaigns against the habit. Due to efforts by groups, like Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD), and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), we have seen a substantial drop in incidents of drunk driving. We should now consider the effects of driving under the influence of marijuana and how it compares to driving under the influence of alcohol.
NHTSA Researches the Effects
Research conducted over a period of 20 months by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stated that although marijuana impaired drivers are at a higher risk of being in a car crash, the reason for the accident may not be the impairment itself. Rather, the risk is linked to the fact a marijuana user is more likely to be with a group of young men, a group that is classified as high risk for car wrecks already. It further found motorists who were in the legally drunk category (over 0.08 blood alcohol level) were four times as likely of being involved in a car accident compared to sober drivers. At blood alcohol levels above 0.15, the risk jumped to over 12 times as much.
People high on marijuana tend to realize they are affected by the drug and compensate for their lack of awareness by driving slowly, leaving extra space between cars and not attempting to overtake other vehicles. Alcohol users, on the other hand, tend to lose their inhibitions and actually drive in a riskier manner.
Conclusions on Drugged Driving
In other words, the NHTSC study concludes drugged driving may not be as dangerous as drunk driving. The study had 9,000 drivers among which 3,000 were in a car accident and 6,000 were part of the control group (people who did not wreck their car). The worst combination though is when alcohol is mixed with drugs, because in this case drivers are quite impaired in their judgment and have no reservations about taking risky driving decisions.
It is important to note research on driving while on a high is in its infancy compared to the countless studies and well established facts on drunk driving. Research on drugged driving is complicated by the fact that marijuana can be discovered in blood even days after it was ingested and the effects of being high are long gone.
The NHTSC itself concludes its research by admitting there needs to be more research “about how illegal drugs and prescription medicines affect highway safety, and that developing that knowledge is urgent, because more drivers have these drugs in their systems.”
No matter where we are in the current climate surrounding marijuana legalization, it is our stance that you should never drive under the influence of any substance. Driving is dangerous enough as it is. There is just simply no reason to put yourself and other motorists at risk. Additionally, driving while under the influence of marijuana is illegal, so if the physical dangers aren’t enough to deter you, then the law should be.