It may be surprising, but many people report that they are more attentive behind the wheel when they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Some say that because they know they have had a few, they are paying more attention than if they were completely sober.
The research, however, does not bear this out. It has been demonstrated again and again over the past few decades that drinking and driving – even so-called “buzzed driving” – significantly increases the risk of fatal accident. Now, the research on the effect of marijuana on drivers has demonstrated the same to be true for smokers who get behind the wheel.
It’s an important issue for Nevadans, as they prepare to deal with legalized recreational use of marijuana in the coming months, especially since other states that have legalized recreational marijuana have seen a significant spike in drugged driving in recent years. How do you think Nevada should prepare for an increase in drivers who are under the influence of marijuana?
How High Is Too High
The biggest issue facing law enforcement and government agencies as they attempt to manage issues around legal marijuana is how best to measure levels of THC in a person’s system when they are pulled over for erratic driving or stopped at a checkpoint. Though there are breath tests to determine blood alcohol content (BAC) levels in drivers, there are few such tests that monitor THC levels, and the ones that do exist only recognize the presence of active THC (denoting use in the hours prior to the test) and do not show how much THC is in the person’s system. For this, a blood test is necessary, making an onsite phlebotomist necessary – something that is only possible at driver checkpoints.
It is a significant problem, both for pulling drugged drivers off the road and curbing the issue through legislated penalties for repeat offenses. Some states have put a limit on the allowable amount of THC in the blood of someone behind the wheel while other states have taken a zero-tolerance stance.
How to address this issue is something that Nevada will need to determine pretty quickly so they can get officers trained on how to handle these situations and be able to effectively educate juries on how to consider cases of drugged driving arrest.
Prescription or Not
Nevada legalized medical marijuana a few years ago, but the state has yet to address the issue of driving while under the influence of the drug. The fact that it is now being discussed as a problem only highlights one of the myths that is prevalent about drug use and driving: the idea that if a drug is used according to a prescription, it is somehow safe or okay to drive while under its influence. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Drugs impact users the same way no matter what their intention at the time of ingestion, especially a drug like marijuana that is prescribed without any limitations or guidance in terms of dosing.
Whether or not use of marijuana occurs recreationally or to manage a “medical” issue, the end result is the same when it comes to driving ability:
- Slowed response to unexpected changes on the road
- Lack of attention to road conditions
- Increased weaving back and forth across lanes
- Increased risk of accident
Additionally, when marijuana was used with alcohol, it was found to delay the peak of alcohol impairment, putting many in the position of getting behind the wheel feeling less impaired only to become increasingly more impaired during the drive as the THC high wore off and alcohol impairment increased. These effects occur whether or not the person was diagnosed with a condition said to benefit from use of marijuana.
No Drugged Driving
Getting behind the wheel after using any amount of marijuana is just as dangerous as getting behind the wheel and drinking any amount of alcohol. There is no truly safe level, and no use is worth the risk. With the prevalence of apps like Uber and Lyft in addition to cabs and public transportation, there is no reason to drive while high or drunk. Any drugged driving is a sign of a potential problem, and if the issue continues, it is a clear red flag that immediate treatment is necessary.
Stay safe and let your legislators know what you expect and demand in terms of proper management of legalized marijuana.