First thing’s first, I want to make this very clear: this not an anti-weed argument. I am not against marijuana for either medical or recreational purposes by any means – the whole point I aim to prove is that driving while high is still choosing to drive while impaired and doesn’t award a high driver any higher moral ground over the driver who gets behind the wheel after drinking two beers. Both on and around campus, I see a disheartening amount of drivers my age partaking in marijuana from behind the wheel. My hope is this unbiased information will enlighten people of the dangers posed to other drivers, and the drivers themselves, when choosing to drive while high.
A common misconception cultivated by some drivers is the belief that marijuana gives a driver improved awareness or function while under the influence. What we know now is that it’s simply not possible. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System showed that of all the fatal U.S. accidents back in 2016, 38 percent of the fatally-injured drivers tested positive for marijuana. After the legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington in 2012, the number of marijuana-positive drivers involved in fatal accidents rose from 8 percent in 2013 to 17 percent in 2014 and is expected to rise, as the number of those who indulge in marijuana continue to increase across the state.
In 2018, researchers at the Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, analyzed nine different studies in addition to a recent publication from the British Medical Journal and concluded that driving high increases the likeliness of an accident by twice of that of a sober driver. So, next time you hear someone declare that they drive better while high, rest assured – it’s without a doubt completely false.
Let’s take a look at what marijuana takes away from a capable driver. Benjamin Hansen, an economist at the University of Oregon in Eugene and at the National Bureau of Economic Research, studied the relation between marijuana and the number of car accidents extensively. Hansen concluded that while the number of fatalities or accidents isn’t comparable to those racked up by drunk driving due to the relation being only recently looked into, it doesn’t mean that driving high is necessarily safer than driving drunk.
“Marijuana impairs all the cognitive abilities needed for safe driving, including tracking, motor coordination, visual function and divided attention,” said Hansen. In addition, the United States Government, Drug Enforcement Administration added, “[Marijuana] slows reaction times, impairs a driver’s concentration and attention, and reduces hand-eye coordination.”
With alcohol, the nationally recognized blood alcohol concentration is .08 g/mL. As of right now, there isn’t a way to test for THC levels in drivers via breathalyzer, due to the lack of national standard for THC. The only way to confirm that marijuana is the inarguable cause of a driver’s inability to drive normally is by testing blood, urine or saliva. Steps are being taken to develop a way to test a driver’s saliva for THC concentration.
Make no mistake – the absence of an acceptable range doesn’t mean it’s not illegal. In fact, it’s a criminal offense to drive high in all 50 states. In California, driving while high falls under the same parameters of driving drunk. Shouse Law Group, a California law firm, cites that the first offense earns a debilitated driver up to 6 months in jail, a $390-$1,000 fine, three to nine months of DUI school or a license suspension ranging from six to 10 months – and that’s just based on the first offense. Driving reaches felony levels after the third offense.
I want to acknowledge that there is a long list of good reasons – even scientifically proven ones – that any regular marijuana user will have in regards to their choosing marijuana over alcohol. However, as science improves, evidence points to marijuana being a hindrance to drivers as opposed to the aid it was built up to be.
To reinforce my earlier declaration – I am not against marijuana. I am only against driving while using marijuana.