drunk driving
Ending Marijuana Prohibition

Driving After Consuming Marijuana Way Less Dangerous Than Alcohol

drunk drivingI read an absolutely stellar article by the legendary activist Sam Tracy that I felt needed to be highlighted. In the article, Sam Tracy points out that driving after consuming marijuana doubles the chances of the driver getting into a crash, which is the same as driving while texting, but less than driving while talking on the phone, and WAY less than driving after consuming alcohol. Per the Huffington Post:

A new meta-study published this month concluded that driving after using marijuana doubles the risk of a car crash, and opponents of legalization are already touting this as a reason to keep the drug illegal. Yet before there’s a public uproar for stricter marijuana DUI laws, it’s important to put things in perspective — we must consider the risk involved and make sure the punishment fits the crime. While weak DUI laws clearly jeopardize public safety, overly strict rules or harsh penalties can ruin the lives of innocent drivers who aren’t truly impaired.

Anything that doubles the risk of a car accident should be avoided, and no one is saying it’s ok for people to drive after using marijuana. NORML has been telling smokers this for years, writing in their Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use, “The responsible cannabis consumer does not operate a motor vehicle or other dangerous machinery while impaired by cannabis, nor (like other responsible citizens) while impaired by any other substance or condition.” Just like you shouldn’t drive after drinking alcohol, you shouldn’t drive after smoking cannabis.

But that’s not to say marijuana impacts driving performance the same as alcohol. Driving under the influence of marijuana doubles your risk of a crash, while a just-barely-illegal .08 BAC increases your risk eleven-fold — yet the penalties are the same. After Colorado voters legalized cannabis for adult use, the legislature voted to criminalize driving under the influence of marijuana, using 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood as the cut-off point for impairment (which is problematic for a host of reasons, and daily users have tested as high as 13.5 ng/ml while completely sober). Drivers found to be impaired by marijuana are charged with the same crime as drunk drivers, making it impossible to separately analyze the data, and applying the same punishments to two behaviors with very different levels of risk.

In comparison, studies have shown that texting while driving similarly doubles the risk of a crash, and making phone calls actually triples it. And how are those risky behaviors dealt with? Colorado did ban texting while driving in 2009, with first offenses punished with a $50 ticket and second offenses jumping to $100. This year, a bill to widen the scope of that law to include phone calls was rejected by the state legislature.

I encourage readers to check out the full article at the first link I provided. It’s a truly insightful article, and one that I wish more elected officials and marijuana opponents were forced to read. Driving after consuming marijuana is bad, admittedly. But it’s similar to texting while driving. Both are illegal, but whereas simply possessing marijuana is a felony in some states, possessing text messages on a phone is not illegal at all. Possessing alcohol is perfectly acceptable if you are of legal age, but possessing marijuana, which is much less harmful than alcohol, can result in jail time. How does that make any sense?

  • painkills2

    “Yet before there’s a public uproar for stricter marijuana DUI laws, it’s important to put things in perspective…”

    I love perspective (and comparisons).

  • Cyndysub

    I have seen news stories that showed a driver after consumption of alcohol driving on a closed course illustrating the lack of coordination and judgement that occurs. I would like to see the same test done with weed I bet that the people giving the test would really be surprised.

    • JKC

      That’s odd but I listed two links to federal studies but it got mod’d and removed. Search for “news driving study stoned,” and results should come up. The one with the video of people driving is interesting to watch!

      • Cyndysub

        I found it thanks.

      • Stephen Weber

        Why does most everyone jump to the automatic, knee-jerk, and FALSE assumption that cannabis impairs drivers much the same as does alcohol? Why let uninformed opinions be the basis of new laws? It took me very little time to do a search, and find actual scientific studies which indicate just how incorrect such an assumption is. Examples follow.

        Studies Show Marijuana Consumption Not Associated With Dangerous Driving, May Lead to Safer Drivers
        Anyone who consumes cannabis on a regular basis knows that it doesn’t make you a dangerous driver. Many people find that it makes them a safer, more focused driver; one that’s more aware of their surroundings and the dangers associated with controlling tons of gasoline-filled metal. Not only has this been an anecdotal truth for as long as cars and cannabis have been paired, science has also been clear that consuming marijuana doesn’t make you a dangerous driver, and may make some people safer drivers. More research is needed, but it’s hard to deny that of the research we have, marijuana hasn’t been found to increase a person’s risk of an accident. To back this claim up, here’s a list of studies and research conducted on this very topic, some of which were funded by national governments in hopes of different results.
        http://tinyurl.com/kwz5bz2

        Marijuana and Driving: A Review of the Scientific Evidence
        “Marijuana has a measurable yet relatively mild effect on psychomotor skills, yet it does not appear to play a significant role in vehicle crashes, particularly when compared to alcohol. Below is a summary of some of the existing data.”
        http://tinyurl.com/8xa862z

        The incidence and role of drugs in fatally injured drivers
        “There was no indication that cannabis by itself was a cause of fatal crashes.”
        REFERENCE: Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
        Report No. DOT HS 808 065, K. Terhune. 1992.
        http://tinyurl.com/qfg9ruf

        Marijuana’s effects on actual driving performance
        “Evidence from the present and previous studies strongly suggests that alcohol encourages risky driving whereas THC encourages greater caution. .. Drivers under the influence of marijuana retain insight in their performance and will compensate when they can, for example, by slowing down or increasing effort. As a consequence, THC’s adverse effects on driving performance appear relatively small.”
        REFERENCE: University of Adelaide study, 1995
        http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Misc/driving/s1p2.htm

        Role of cannabis in motor vehicle crashes
        “There is no evidence that consumption of cannabis alone increases the risk of culpability for traffic crash fatalities or injuries for which hospitalization occurs, and may reduce those risks.. The more cautious behavior of subjects who have received marijuana decreases the impact of the drug on performance, whereas the opposite holds true for alcohol.”
        REFERENCE: Marijuana: On-Road and Driving-Simulator Studies; Epidemiologic Reviews 21: 222-232, A. Smiley. 1999.
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10682259

        “Both simulation and road trials generally find that driving behaviour shortly after consumption of larger doses of cannabis results in (i) a more cautious driving style; (ii) increased variability in lane position (and headway); and (iii) longer decision times. Whereas these results indicate a ‘change’ from normal conditions, they do not necessarily reflect ‘impairment’ in terms of performance effectiveness since few studies report increased accident risk.”
        REFERENCE: UK Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (Road Safety Division). 2000.
        http://tinyurl.com/og89wrm

        Cannabis And Cannabinoids – Pharmacology, Toxicology And Therapy
        “At the present time, the evidence to suggest an involvement of cannabis in road crashes is scientifically unproven”.
        REFERENCE: G. Chesher and M. Longo. 2002.
        http://tinyurl.com/o7dmm2g

        Cannabis: Our position for a Canadian Public Policy
        “Cannabis alone, particularly in low doses, has little effect on the skills involved in automobile driving. Cannabis leads to a more cautious style of driving. However it has a negative impact on decision time and trajectory. This in itself does not mean that drivers under the influence of cannabis represent a traffic safety risk”
        REFERENCE: Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs. 2002.
        http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/sen/committee/371/ille/rep/summary-e.htm

        “The evidence to suggest an involvement of cannabis in road crashes is scientifically unproven.”
        REFERENCE: Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutic Potential, 2002
        Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutic Potential, edited by Franjo Grotenhermen, MD and Ethan Russo, MD (Haworth Press 2002).
        http://tinyurl.com/o7dmm2g

        The Prevalence of Drug Use in Drivers, and Characteristics of the Drug-Positive Group
        “There was a clear relationship between alcohol and culpability. In contrast, there was no significant increase in culpability for cannabinoids alone.”
        REFERENCE: Accident Analysis and Prevention 32(5): 613-622. Longo, MC; Hunter, CE; Lokan, RJ; White, JM; and White, MA. (2000a).
        http://www.grotenhermen.com/driving/longo1.pdf

        The Effect Of Cannabis Compared With Alcohol On Driving
        “Although cognitive studies suggest that cannabis use may lead to unsafe driving, experimental studies have suggested that it can have the opposite effect.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2009
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2722956/

        Why Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Traffic Deaths
        “No differences were found during the baseline driving segment (and the) collision avoidance scenarios,”
        REFERENCE: Research published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 2010
        http://healthland.time.com/2011/12/02/why-medical-marijuana-laws-reduce-traffic-deaths/

        Top 10 Reasons Marijuana Users Are Safer Drivers
        “20 years of study has concluded that marijuana smokers may actually have fewer accidents than other drivers.”
        http://www.4autoinsurancequote.com/uncategorized/reasons-why-marijuana-users-are-safe-drivers/

        Risk of severe driver injury by driving with psychoactive substances
        “The study found that those with a blood alcohol level of 0.12% were over 30 times more likely to get into a serious accident than someone who’s consumed any amount of cannabis. .. The least risky drug seemed to be cannabis and benzodiazepines and Z-drugs.”
        REFERENCE: Accident Analysis & Prevention; Volume 59, October 2013, Pages 346–356
        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457513002315

        Cannabis: Summary Report
        “Cannabis alone, particularly in low doses, has little effect on the skills involved in automobile driving.”
        REFERENCE: Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
        http://tinyurl.com/o7dmm2g

        Acute cannabis consumption and motor vehicle collision risk
        “There is no evidence that consumption of cannabis alone increases the risk of culpability for traffic crash fatalities or injuries for which hospitalization occurs, and may reduce those risks.”
        REFERENCE: British Medical Journal, 1999; M. Bates and T. Blakely

        Marijuana-DUI Case Tossed by Arizona Supreme Court in Metabolite Ruling
        “Because the legislature intended to prevent impaired driving, we hold that the ‘metabolite’ reference in [the law] is limited to any of a proscribed substance’s metabolites that are capable of causing impairment . . . Drivers cannot be convicted of the . . . offense based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana.”
        http://tinyurl.com/msq7umr

        • bret

          its generally a bad idea to drive while high. Marijuana is a hallucinogen (and a rather strong one depending on strain, dose, and tolerance.) I refuse to get behind the wheel until way after high wears off.

  • Silverado

    It’s going to take someone getting pulled over and who’s consumed cannabis so that the state says they’re “intoxicated” while this person has deep pockets and hires a lawyer that not only proves this person is not “intoxicated” but get’s this prohibitionist mumbo-jumbo tossed out into the proverbial garbage can, where it belongs. And “daily users have tested as high as 13.5 ng/ml while completely sober” probably best describes me. As a long time grower with many connections in the MMJ industry (it’s legal here in Washington state) I consume some of the best cannabis on the planet along with high grade RSO DAILY and honestly and unless I happen to smoke some bud, wax or shatter etc etc I’m completely straight and could pass ANY so called “walking the white line test” or any other test they could think of, let alone try on me. Unless they want to “swab” me. Good luck as I’m not doing the task that make me….eligible for that. Oh and did I mention being a “professional driver” with over 1 million SAFE accident free miles driven?? Safely….retired and drawing that pension too?? Anyway, that 13.5 ng/ml sounds a little….low to some of the crowd I know and hang with. And as they’re ALL in the late 50’s or early 60’s everyone of them I know has a similar driving record as your truly. So they were/are lying about that…too. Oh sure there’s definitely some that should NOT be driving after…using cannabis. So GOOD LUCK to the deep pocketed guy who is going to get pulled over and has a high NG/ML ratio that he has to sue the state over. I’ll just keep driving LIKE I ALWAYS HAVE. Safe, sane and completely legal – thank you. And we’ll be rooting for you all the way!!

    • Trike Rider

      SHould never dRinK And DRivE or FriGgin Text tHis WhIle DriviNg

  • apollo

    there was an article many many years ago in
    Motor trend magazine (yes back in the troglodyte era when there were paper
    magazines) that found up to a certain point folks actually drove better. They
    had done this study after a similar one with alcohol. I wish I had saved the
    article

  • Robert Jordan

    been in 1 accident in 20 years because i was SOBER and AGGRESSIVE….had just gotten off work, still wish i had smoked….marijuana keeps the pain down, my anxiety at ease, me calm and driving slow and cautious….

  • Denny

    Driving under any kind of impairment is foolish and potentially dangerous/lethal. Given the number of incompetent drivers already on the roads throughout the country, giving them something else to distract their attention is not a viable way to show the world that it’s OK to “weed” and drive.

  • http://www.drugsense.org/tfy/nhtsa1.htm

    NHTSA: Drugs Not Big Danger on the Road

    NHTSA Accident Study Finds Drugs Not Big Danger on the Road, the Main Danger is Alcohol. Marijuana By Itself Not an Apparent Driving Hazard

    Dr. Dale Gieringer, California NORML (415) 563-5858.

    A newly released National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study, DOT-HS-808-065, “Incidence of Drug Use in Fatally Injured Drivers”, indicates that alcohol is by far the leading cause of drug-related traffic accidents, while marijuana poses negligible danger except when combined with alcohol.

    The study, the most comprehensive drug accident survey to date, is dated October 1992, but is only now being released. A researcher familiar with the project says this is because it contradicts the government’s official anti-drug line that illicit drugs are a major public safety hazard.

    The study investigated blood samples from 1882 drivers killed in car, truck and motorcycle accidents in seven states during 1990 – 91. Alcohol was found in 51.5% of the specimens. Just 17.8% showed traces of other drugs; marijuana was a distant second to alcohol at 6.7%, followed by cocaine (5.3%), benzodiazepine tranquillizers (2.9%) and amphetamine (1.9%). Two-thirds of marijuana- and other-drug-using drivers were also positive for alcohol.

    The report concluded that alcohol was by far the “dominant problem” in drug-related accidents. A responsibility analysis showed that alcohol-using drivers were conspicuously culpable in fatal accidents, especially at high blood concentrations or in combination with other drugs, including marijuana. However, those who used marijuana alone were found to be if anything less culpable than non-drug-users. The report concluded, “there was no indication that marijuana by itself was a cause of fatal accidents.”

  • ted mishler

    if to feel normal, medical cannabis is used, then any impairment would be when they are not using
    just saying the truth
    i’ve never wrecked any car, or bike, on snow or ice, and cannabis use is integral to my day

  • Ras Ible

    Texting while driving is more dangerous than smoking herb for most drivers..

  • psi2u2

    His stats on the risks of driving while texting seem to be very badly flawed. According to this source the correct figure for that activity is 23x risk of driving without the activity. http://www.fcc.gov/guides/texting-while-driving