By Carimah Townes, ThinkProgress.com
A study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] concludes that driving after smoking marijuana does not make you more likely to get into a car crash — especially when compared to driving after alcohol consumption.
Researchers studied 9,000 drivers over the past year to examine marijuana’s impact on driving. Although 25 percent of marijuana users were more likely to be involved in a car crash than people who did not use the drug, gender, age, and race/ethnicity of marijuana users were considered, demographic differences actually contributed substantially to crash risk. Younger drivers had a higher crash rate than older ones, and men crashed more than women.
On the other hand, drivers who consumed alcohol were significantly more likely to crash. Those with a 0.08 percent breath alcohol level crashed four times more than sober drivers, and people with a 0.15 percent level were 12 times more likely to crash.
In the study, testing positive for marijuana was defined as having delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinal (THC) in the system. The number of legal drug users and illegal drug users involved in crashes was statistically insignificant.
Nevertheless, marijuana use does impact drivers’ senses, the study warned, and the number of drivers with marijuana in their system is on the rise. According to the Office of Impaired Driving and Occupant Protection director, Jeff Michael, “Drivers should never get behind the wheel impaired, and we know that marijuana impairs judgment, reaction times and awareness.”
Media reports and anti-pot legalization advocates have hyped the idea that “drugged driving” would wreak havoc on the roads now that states are beginning to legalize marijuana. In fact, highway fatalities have gone down since Colorado legalized marijuana.
The NHTSA findings, published Friday, come on the heels of another marijuana study conducted by Emory University. Researchers at the university concluded that people who smoked one joint a day did not have significantly impaired lung function, when compared to non-smokers.
When taken together, the reports are good news for pot fans. But additional research on the effects of marijuana is also invaluable to state lawmakers who are ironing out the logistics of legalization. Recreational use became legal in the Centennial State on January 1, 2014, and cannabis fans are even allowed to grow their own plants. Yet there are still numerous restrictions, such as the inability to smoke in public accommodations. To clarify the law and educate people about how to use recreational pot responsibly, the state’s health department recently launched the ‘Good to Know’ campaign, a large-scale, $5.7 million, public education project.