The dangers of drinking and driving are well-established, but what about using cannabis products and getting behind the wheel? Can smoking marijuana impair your judgment, perception and reaction times just as much as having a few too many cocktails?
A handful of studies suggest that cannabis and driving is a perilous combination, as drugged drivers have a much higher risk of getting into accidents.
Marijuana use impairs driving ability
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana can significantly impair spatial perception, motor coordination, concentration and reaction times. The organization cites two European studies which found that drivers with elevated concentrations of THC (the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol) in their blood were twice as likely to cause a fatal car accident compared to those who had not used cannabis or alcohol.
Recreational marijuana has been legal in California for nearly a year, and despite countless accidents caused by drugged drivers, there remains a surprising disconnect in our thought process when it comes to stoned driving.
In fact, a recent report issued by the Highway Loss Data Institute suggests a causal link between legal recreational cannabis and an increase in collision rates. In Nevada, Oregon, Colorado and Washington, where recreational pot has been legalized – auto accident claim frequencies are 6 percent higher.
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration demonstrates that drugs and alcohol are involved in 11 percent of all fatal traffic accidents, and 25 percent of all drivers who are tested come up positive for THC in their bloodstream. While the connection between marijuana and car accident risks needs additional research, experts do know that marijuana affects one’s ability to perceive time and distance – two critical components when you’re driving a vehicle.
How much does cannabis impair driving?
Some argue that marijuana improves concentration skills, and thus enhances driving ability, but research suggests this only holds true for a few minutes. THC impacts visual function, decreases reaction times and often leads to distraction. Stoned drivers are more prone to weave in and out of their lanes and find it harder to read road signs or maintain a stable following distance. All of these factors increase accident risk, but when marijuana is combined with a few beers or cocktails – as it often is—the danger of causing an accident jumps even higher. Studies show that alcohol speeds the absorption of THC in the bloodstream, causing measurable psychomotor impairment.
While there is no question that cannabis can acutely impair driving-related skills, the level of impairment between individuals varies more than they do with alcohol because of tolerance and different absorption rates of THC.
Injured by a drugged driver in California?
There is no breathalyzer test for marijuana. California law enforcement officials are trained to identify physical signs of drug impairment and determine whether a driver is not fit to safely operate a vehicle.
If you were involved in a car accident and believe the other driver was stoned, drugged or otherwise impaired, Salamati Law can help you seek appropriate legal remedies.
Additional Resources on Cannabis Effects on Driving:
- IIHS, Effect of recreational marijuana sales on police reported crashes in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington https://www.iihs.org/frontend/iihs/documents/masterfiledocs.ashx?id=2173
- National Institute on Drug Abuse, Does marijuana use affect driving? https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/does-marijuana-use-affect-driving
- ca, Driving under the influence of Cannabis https://medicalmarijuana.ca/resource-center/driving-cannabis/