With so many states considering legalizing cannabis, even if only on the medical level, the notion has public safety workers buzzing with the question whether or not an increase in danger on the road will result from high/stoned drivers.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a study on drug and alcohol crash risks which concluded, after making variable adjustments, that drivers testing positive for (only) THC in their system were no more likely to get into crashes than someone not on drugs or alcohol. This makes it far less risky than driving drunk, which can increase your risk of a fatal accident twentyfold for 20-year-old drivers and nine-fold for adults up to 34.
More Tests Needed
That doesn’t take away the fact there remains increased dangers, however. Eduardo Romano, senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation commented on the study:
“Despite our results, I still think that marijuana contributes to crash risk, only that its contribution is not as important as we expected.”
The majority of the information was taken from self-reports and statistics from previous crashes; analysis of drivers’ blood, urine, etc. after a crash. Since THC stays in the system for up to a month for a regular consumer, such tests may have been reporting cannabis use, though the driver may not have been stoned/high at the time they were driving.
More controlled studies must be conducted in order to truly testify the real dangers behind driving under the influence of cannabis. Until recently, there has been difficulty in procuring information from a controlled study that asks participants to consume because it would require them to come in contact with an illegal substance. It remains federally illegal and illegal in most the world, which is what makes such a study so difficult to conduct.
Differences Between Drunk & Stoned Driving
The most worrisome culprit behind driving intoxicated is reaction time. The major difference between drunk drivers and stoned drivers is that drunken ones tend to drive faster while stoned ones drive slower.
Drunk drivers can be easily detected via the three field sobriety tests (the horizontal gaze nystagmus, the one-leg stand, the walk-and-turn) while only about 30% of cannabis consumers will fail the sobriety tests (found in a 2012 study published in the journal Psychopharmacology).
Blood tests and breathalyzer tests can easily test an individual for blood/alcohol content. THC stays in the consumer’s system far after being high/stoned, so such tests become fairly useless, especially for consistent consumers that have higher levels of THC in their system regularly.
Location of Consumption
Location plays a significant factor in all these studies’ findings. Those that drink tend to do it in public spaces like clubs and bars – places that require a ride to get to, ultimately increasing the risk of being intoxicated while driving home. Consumers of cannabis tend to do it at home, decreasing the overall risk of driving intoxicated in the first place.
Take and Uber, Lyft, or Cab
Despite the findings in these studies, there still remains a lack of reliable information regarding driving while under the influence of cannabis. Instead of risking it, plan ahead – put the phone number to a cab biz or to Uber or Lyft in your phone before consuming and going out. That way, you won’t have to worry how you’re going to get home, ultimately relieving yourself of the paranoia that may sprout surrounding your decisions!