In what appears to be another victory for marijuana legalization proponents, A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that driving after smoking marijuana does not make you more likely to get into a car accident, at least not when compared to driving after alcohol consumption.
Researchers studied 9,000 drivers over the last year to examine marijuana’s impact on driving. Although 25 percent of marijuana users were more likely to be involved in a car accident than people who did not use the drug. There were some factors that were controlled for, particularly ones that are known to impact motor vehicle accidents: gender, age, and race/ethnicity of marijuana users were considered, and as expected, demographic differences actually contributed substantially to crash risk. Younger drivers had a higher crash rate than older ones, and men crashed more than women, making it difficult to implicate marijuana as the causative factor.
Of course, these are staunchly different statistics than the well-known risks of driving while under the influence of alcohol, which is why there’s a legal blood alcohol limit in every state in the U.S. Drivers who consumed alcohol were significantly more likely to crash. Those with a 0.08 (common legal limit) percent blood alcohol level crashed four times more than sober drivers, and people with a 0.15 (roughly twice the common legal limit) percent level were 12 times more likely to crash. Other studies have shown that a car accident chance rises exponentially with the driver’s blood alcohol level.
In the study, “testing positive for marijuana” was defined as having delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinal (THC) in the system. This is difficult to test for as marijuana remains in the system long after the “high” is gone, which is very unlike alcohol, which rapidly clears the liver. This is because THC hides out in adipose or fatty tissue. The number of legal drug users and illegal drug users involved in crashes was statistically insignificant.
Nevertheless, marijuana use does impact drivers’ senses, the study warned, and the number of drivers with marijuana in their system is on the rise as states make use of marijuana for medical or recreational uses legal.
Jeff Michael, Director of Office of Impaired Driving and Occupant Protection, was careful to point out that marijuana’s action may slow reflexes among other things.
“Drivers should never get behind the wheel impaired, and we know that marijuana impairs judgment, reaction times and awareness.”
This study debunked the anti-marijuana stance that accidents would increase. In fact, highway fatalities have gone down since Colorado legalized marijuana.