My friends smoke pot and then drive home. They say they’re fine. Is it different than drinking and driving?
That’s a great question and as many followers of this blog know, we repeatedly discuss drinking and driving, which is illegal and proven to be highly dangerous. The short answer is the effects can be different than alcohol, but the reality is one is impaired and driving impaired is illegal. Marijuana is illegal in all New England states. Drivers can be cited for driving under the influence of prescription drugs if it impairs their ability to drive.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, after the state of Washington legalized marijuana, the number of traffic fatalities doubled among those who were under the influence of marijuana while driving, from 8% to 17%. Therefore, there is a need for more education, more enforcement and blood tests to measure THC (the chemical found in marijuana) in the body. Because of the nature of the drug, it is more difficult to determine legal limits, as they do for alcohol with the .08 being the legal limit. They are concerned about the number of states legalizing marijuana based on Washington’s record of fatalities.
Marijuana tends to affect people differently than alcohol does. The reality is both affect capabilities critical to operating a vehicle. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “The effects of specific drugs differ depending on how they act in the brain. For example, marijuana can slow reaction time, impair judgment of time and distance, and decrease coordination. Drivers who have used cocaine or methamphetamine can be aggressive and reckless when driving. Certain kinds of sedatives can cause dizziness and drowsiness. All of these impairments can lead to vehicle crashes.
Research studies have shown negative effects of marijuana on drivers, including an increase in lane weaving, poor reaction time, and altered attention to the road, according to the National Institute. Use of alcohol with marijuana made drivers more impaired, causing even more lane weaving.
Drivers who smoke marijuana within a few hours of driving are almost twice as likely to get into an accident as sober drivers. While alcohol is still the most common accident-inducing substance, a recent survey quoted on the National Institute of Drug Abuse’s web site found that 6.8 percent of drivers who were involved in accidents — most of whom were under 35 — tested positive for THC.
If you or your friend every say: “I’m a better driver when I’m stoned.” This is definitely not true. A major issue with drugged driving is that when you’re high, you don’t always realize that your judgment is impaired. This is especially true for teens or young drivers who are already at-risk drivers. Combine this with a few hits of pot, and the buzz can become a killer. If you are stopped, and have marijuana in your vehicle, you run the risk of arrest and a record that may follow you for years.
Though it varies by person, it generally takes at least 3–4 hours to come down from a high. Unlike alcohol, no amount of strong coffee or food is going to sober you up faster.
All of the medical research, including a study published in the British Journal of Medicine, conclude that pot smokers are impaired drivers. Bottom line – marijuana affects reaction time, spatial sense, and perception — all of which are crucial to safe driving. So when a person is driving high, they may end up following another car too closely (and brake too late), make unsafe turns, or misjudge road hazards. The fact remains: pot and driving don’t mix.
As many studies show, smoking pot and driving is a bad combination. Don’t let your friends fool you into thinking they are ok. Just like with alcohol, determine a designated driver for everyone’s safety as driving impaired is a danger to everyone on the roads. All of us at Jaffarian Volvo Toyota want you and your friends to be safe.