The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released study results showing no correlation between marijuana use and car crashes. Due to the obvious rising trend of marijuana use among drivers, however, highway safety authorities want more information.
In one of the most closely controlled studies of its kind, researchers examined over 3,000 drivers involved in accidents over the course of 20 months in Virginia Beach, Virginia, assessing whether those drivers had any substances in their systems at the time of the accident, and if so, what type. Additionally, the study looked at 6,000 control drivers from the same area during the same time period who were not involved in any collisions.
Data indicated the motorists with a greater risk of crashing were those with alcohol in their systems. In fact, after adjustments were made for gender and age, it was determined that a driver has a four times higher risk of crashing with a blood alcohol content of .08 than does a sober driver. That risk increases to 12-fold with a BAC of .15.
That information did not surprise researchers. What did surprise them, however, was how relatively little effect the presence of THC in the bloodstream had on a driver’s chance of being in a car crash. Drivers with tetrahydrocannabinol in their bloodstream, the chemical in marijuana most responsible for its psychological effects, had only a 5% greater chance of being involved in a car accident than sober drivers when the odds were adjusted for gender and age.
Much less is known about the effects of THC on a driver than alcohol, but despite their physiological differences, they are treated the same by law enforcement officers. If you are suspected of driving under the influence of THC, you will be subjected to a series of field sobriety tests.
Generally speaking, there is no red flag to indicate whether a driver is under the influence of THC. Drivers are usually pulled over for committing other traffic violations before their intoxication is discovered. One alarming pattern is emerging, however. Rarely are drivers under the influence of THC alone. Often, there are other drugs in their system- usually alcohol.
The takeaway from the study is that people should be cautious about mistaking a non-correlation between marijuana use and traffic accidents with a non-correlation between marijuana use and impaired driving. Simulator studies have proven that THC does negatively affect a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle safely.
Moving forward with data from this study, researchers hope to be able to assist lawmakers in determining the best possible traffic safety laws regarding the use of marijuana.
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