Smoking Marijuana And Driving May Be Just As Bad As Drinking And Driving

With the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, more and more cases of getting high on marijuana and driving are being observed and recorded. Although the issue is nothing new, the two states are allowing the cases to be studied more openly than it has in the past. The results are a mixed bag, but some of the outcomes have proved quite deadly.

In October 2012, Joseph Beer smoked his normal dosage of marijuana and sat behind the wheel of his Subaru Impreza. He and four of his friends sped down the road at 100 miles-per-hour until he lost control and split his car in two after hitting a tree. Each of his friends died in the accident. As a result, Joseph plead guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide. Beer was sentenced last week, receiving 5-15 years in prison for his misdeed. Despite the overwhelming evidence against him, the jury was deadlocked over whether marijuana was a major factor in the crash or if it was Beer’s poor decision to drive so quickly.

Jason Beer’s accident occurred prior to the legalization of Marijuana in Colorado and Washington, but is a prime example of the sort of accident that could occur when driving under the influence of any foreign substance. Studies have found marijuana has a tendency to impede the decision-making process, slowing it down considerably. It also has an effect on an individual’s peripheral vision and the ability to multitask safely. Add those impediments to the unsafe speed of 100 miles-per-hour, and disaster is bound to occur.

Many who smoke marijuana seem to err on the side of caution when driving, often under the speed limit and with increased concern about what is happening around them. On a fast paced highway, the slower speeds could be just as detrimental as the higher speeds. Jonathan Adkins, of the Governors Highway Safety Association, believes that regardless of anyone’s thoughts on marijuana, driving under the influence is never a good idea.

“We see the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington as a wake-up call for all of us in highway safety. We don’t know enough about the scope of marijuana-impaired driving to call it a big or small problem. But anytime a driver has their ability impaired, it is a problem.”

Due to the unknown implications of driving under the influence of marijuana, due to less data in comparison to drunk driving, Deborah Hersmen, of the NTSA, feels that strict limits should be implemented countrywide, rather than state by state.

“If states legalize marijuana, they must set clear limits for impairment behind the wheel and require mandatory drug testing following a crash. Right now we have a patchwork system across the nation regarding mandatory drug testing following highway crashes.”

Whether or not you partake in marijuana, everyone can agree that driving under the influence of marijuana is not the safest or smartest thing to do, much like drunk or buzzed driving. NORML, a site that claims to be “working to reform marijuana laws,” shares that marijuana can and does impair psychomotor skills, which are essential to driving safely.

“Although cannabis intoxication has been shown to mildly impair psychomotor skills, this impairment does not appear to be severe or long lasting. In driving simulator tests, this impairment is typically manifested by subjects decreasing their driving speed and requiring greater time to respond to emergency situations.”

Their study goes on to state that marijuana use is not as devastating as drinking and driving, but there is still a risk.

“Overall, it is possible to conclude that cannabis has a measurable effect on psychomotor performance, particularly tracking ability. Its effect on higher cognitive functions, for example, divided attention tasks associated with driving, appear not to be as critical. Drivers under the influence of cannabis seem aware that they are impaired, and attempt to compensate for this impairment by reducing the difficulty of the driving task, for example by driving more slowly.

In terms of road safety, it cannot be concluded that driving under the influence of cannabis is not a hazard, as the effects of various aspects of driver performance are unpredictable. However, in comparison with alcohol, the severe effects of alcohol on the higher cognitive processes of driving are likely to make this more of a hazard, particularly at higher blood alcohol levels.”

Although the risk is less, the end result of potential death does not discriminate between alcohol or marijuana. What are your thoughts?

[Photo Courtesy: Lauren Fix]