With marijuana legalization laws continuing to roll out across the nation, and with all indicators showing that cannabis is now more popular than ever — even among teens! — the backlash and anti-weed hysteria has likewise ramped up its game.
A favorite target among anti-cannabis crusaders, who have been known to link cannabis to all kinds of social ills, is the prospect of our nations highways and byways flooded with stoned drivers.
But it turns out, like many of their other favorite talking points, driving stoned is not as deadly and dangerous as some have made it out to be.
In fact, a new study suggests the opposite. USA Today reported on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration‘s recent findings that “consuming marijuana does not elevate the crash risk of the driver.”
The study concludes that “the odds — adjusted for age and gender — of a driver with THC in his or her system crashing are only 5% higher than those of a sober driver.”
So not entirely safe, of course, but still vastly safer than driving drunk. According to the same study — i.e., adjusted for age and gender — a driver with a blood alcohol content of .08, which is the legal limit, is four times as likely to crash as a driver with no alcohol in his or her body.
When BAC hits .15, drivers are 12 times as likely to get into an accident.
Compare that 400% more likely for drunk drivers to just 5% more likely for “stoned” drivers to get into accidents than their sober roadmates.
The difference is significant, and it has road-safety decision makers craving more information on cannabis use and crashes.
“There’s a pretty clear accelerating trend of marijuana use among drivers,” says Gordon Trowbridge, communications director at the NHTSA. “There’s more and more of this on the highway and it’s something we know relatively little about.”
And this wasn’t just some poorly designed, loosely controlled study based on surveys.
“It was the most closely controlled study of its kind that has ever been conducted,” Trowbridge says.
The study looked at more than 3,000 drivers involved in crashes over a 20-month period in Virginia Beach, Va., measuring which substances — if any — were in their systems at the time of the accident. The study also included 6,000 control drivers in the same area over the same time period who were not involved in any accidents.
The results point to two conclusions.
First, there’s potential for this information to have a profound impact on traffic law and safety regulations. Data like that provided by this NHSTA study points out that alcohol and cannabis need to be treated as distinct.
The alcohol equation is somewhat simpler than the drug equation,” Trowbridge says. “We think it’s important for those policymakers to have much more data in hand to make those decisions.”
Second, it points to the complicated nature of cannabis and its effects on the body, something that prohibition has hampered our ability to understand until recently.
“Marijuana is complicated. This study is a very important part of beginning to learn the factors we need to pay attention to,” Trowbrigde says. “We know far less about marijuana at this point than we do about alcohol.”
This much is clear: if you’re can’t find a sober DD, you’re best bet might be the guy behind the bong, not the bottle.
(Photo Credit: seattletimes.com)