Contrary to popular belief, driving after using marijuana is just as dangerous as driving drunk.
A recent study (JAMA Pediatrics) of 315 college students from two state universities found that one in five students used pot in the last month, and more than one half of the male students and one third of the female students reported riding in a car with someone who had smoked.
Understanding the Risks of Driving High
This data, while frightening for parents, doesn’t represent the bad choices many college students take while on drugs. Instead, it represents a lack of understanding of the effects of marijuana. In the same study, only 11 percent of male students and 3 percent of female students admitted to driving drunk—a much lower percentage than the smoking and driving numbers.
Colorado was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana, and is often used as a prime, leading example of the pros and cons of legalized pot. Since 2000, for example, fatal car crashes involving marijuana has doubled in the state. The University of Colorado School of Medicine found that in 2011, ten percent of fatal car crashes involved at least one driver who was under the influence of marijuana—up from 4.5 percent of fatal car crashes in 1994. While the evidence isn’t yet proven to be a causality of legalized marijuana use, it can be inferred that driving while high is not safe in the slightest.
What Needs to Be Done?
The absence of education and the lack of a device similar to a breathalyzer are some of the main reasons teens get behind a wheel after using pot.
To test whether drivers are high, police conduct field tests similar to the drunk driving tests: walk nine heel-to-toe steps or stand on one leg for 30 seconds. Yet a study from 2012 suggests that only 30 percent of drivers who smoked pot failed a test like this, while a whopping 90 percent of drunk drivers failed the field tests.
Additionally, there is not enough emphasis marijuana use in drug and alcohol education in schools. Drunk goggles give 13-year-olds a good idea of how uncontrollable and scary it is to be intoxicated with alcohol; high goggles would also be effective. Many states run campaigns against drunk driving, but perhaps there should be a national “get high get a DUI” campaign, modeled after Colorado’s.
To keep all drivers safe on the road, an increase in drug education must accompany the growth of legalized marijuana.
Information adapted from the Boston Globe.