To understand the impact the use of marijuana has on traffic safety, you must first consider what is required in the act of driving. It can be agreed upon that driving is a complex activity that requires wide-ranging attention, concentration, alertness, eye-hand-foot coordination, and an ability to process auditory and visual information quickly. Each of these cognitive and psychomotor functions is impacted by the psychoactive ingredients of marijuana.
In a 2017 report to Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) noted that studies have shown that marijuana can impair critical abilities necessary for safe driving including slowed reaction time, impaired road tracking, decreased divided attention, impaired cognitive performance and sensory-perception functions.
While we may not know the exact effects marijuana use may have on someone’s driving abilities, we do know that marijuana use is on the rise, public acceptance of its use is increasing, and penalties for possession are declining.
Many argue that the use of psychoactive drugs has similar, perhaps even worse, effects than driving after drinking alcohol. Marijuana is the leading drug, often combined with alcohol, used by drivers who get charged with DUID offenses. “Impaired driving is impaired driving, no matter what the driver has taken or consumed. Most people won’t realize or they underestimate the extent in which the drugs will impair their ability to drive," Brad says. “Whether it’s illegal drugs, pain killers, muscle relaxants or alcohol, drivers who are negligent and get behind the wheel impaired should be arrested and charged with DUI.”
Difficulties Detecting Drugged Driving
Unlike drunk drivers, police and legal professionals have a more difficult time detecting – and prosecuting – drivers that are under the influence of illegal drugs. We know that 0.08 percent blood alcohol content level is the legal limit of alcohol you can have while driving, but there is no legal limit if THC is found in your blood or urine sample. Further, there are no reliable methods to determine marijuana intoxication.
Brad says, “Alcohol leaves an odor, which many times make it easy to detect. You can also discover if someone has consumed alcohol with a simple breathalyzer test. In instances where a driver is under the influence of drugs, you have to get a blood draw.”
Other complications with detecting drugs in a driver’s system include:
- An adequate roadside test for drug levels in the body doesn't yet exist.
- Police won't usually test for drugs if drivers have reached an illegal blood alcohol level because there's already enough evidence for a DUI charge.
- Many drivers who cause crashes are found to have both drugs and alcohol or more than one drug in their system, making it hard to know which substance had the greatest effect in the cause of the accident.
- Several drugs can stay in your system for days or weeks after use, making it difficult to determine when the drug was used, and therefore, how and if it impaired driving.
Brad says, “It's true that the science concerning the detection of marijuana use is improving, and there are scientific methods in which THC is measured in the body, however that doesn’t necessarily prove intoxication. The reason for this is that drugs can stay in the system for days after use, which makes it extremely difficult to prove the driver was impaired at the time of the accident.”
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