Marijuana and Driving: Updates on the Risks, the Research, the Regulations
It’s no secret that driving while under the influence of alcohol can have extreme consequences. But what about marijuana and driving?
We’ll bring you up to speed on the known research, the risks, and the current regulations and laws when it comes to driving under the influence of cannabis.
One of the reasons the taxes on cannabis products went up in January is because a percentage of those tax dollars are going toward the highway department to test and study the effects of driving while impaired.
If you’re interested in finding out more about why the taxes are so high, and where your tax dollars are going, you’ll definitely want to check this out.
The real question is: Is driving high dangerous?
Little research has been conducted to measure the consequences of driving under the influence of cannabis or other drugs, with the exception of alcohol. However, slowly but surely, more and more research into quantifying the effects of marijuana and driving has been published. And many scientists are realizing quickly that marijuana and driving is not nearly as simple as alcohol and driving.
In driving simulator tests, the impairment seen in cannabis users behind the wheel is usually manifested in a decreased driving speed and requiring greater time to respond to urgent situations. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that cannabis users play a significant role in traffic accidents. A 2002 review of seven different studies reported, “Crash culpability studies have failed to demonstrate that drivers with cannabinoids in the blood are significantly more likely than drug-free drivers to be culpable in road crashes.” This combination of studies involved a combined 7,934 drivers.
In a report for the UK Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Road Safety Division), some of the conclusions made were as follows, “Overall, it is possible to conclude that cannabis has a measurable effect on psychomotor performance, particularly tracking ability. Its effect on higher cognitive functions, for example, divided attention tasks associated with driving, appear not to be as critical. Drivers under the influence of cannabis seem aware that they are impaired, and attempt to compensate for this impairment by reducing the difficulty of the driving task, for example by driving more slowly.
In terms of road safety, it cannot be concluded that driving under the influence of cannabis is not a hazard, as the effects of various aspects of driver performance are unpredictable. However, in comparison with alcohol, the severe effects of alcohol on the higher cognitive processes of driving are likely to make this more of a hazard, particularly at higher blood alcohol levels.”
While cannabis does have a measurable – however mild – effect on psychomotor skills, it doesn’t look to be even nearly close to that of alcohol.
So let’s revisit this question again. Is driving high dangerous?
The short answer?… Sorta. Driving under the influence of anything should be taken seriously, and our kids should definitely not be driving under the influence of anything. However, according to the limited studies that we do have access to, it seems that the level of impairment when it comes to marijuana and driving is not nearly as dangerous as the level of impairment we see from alcohol and driving.
So is it legal or illegal to drive high?
In the state of California, it is very illegal to drive high! In fact, driving high can get you a DUI.
But right now, law enforcement has limited options for determining how to test for dangerous levels of cannabis consumption while behind the wheel.
One of the ways law enforcement can test for a marijuana-fueled DUI is a field sobriety test. They open a warm box of pizza in front of you, and if you take a slice, they know you’re stoned.
The field sobriety test is much like the one for alcohol where an officer can have you do a series of mental and physical tests to determine your sobriety.
They also can administer a blood, breath, urine, or saliva cheek swab test. If an officer has probable cause to believe that you’re driving under the influence, that immediately makes you consent to any of the above tests. However, probable cause isn’t the same thing as a mere suspicion, so make sure that you know your rights so that you don’t get taken advantage of.
How to stay safe behind the wheel
You knew I was going to say it – Just don’t drive high. It’s not worth the risk, and you may not be as good of a high driver as you thought you were.
If you have cannabis products in your car, that’s totally fine. As long as they’re sealed in a container and not accessible from the driver’s seat, you’re in the clear. That open cannabis product in the passenger seat is enough to be considered probable cause for that police officer’s urine test.
If you want to get stoned and do some traveling, there are always ride services like Uber and Lyft that are around for people like you!