With Colorado leading the way, America’s legalized marijuana movement has gained considerable momentum in recent years. As marijuana use for medical and recreational purposes becomes increasingly acceptable and widespread, many traffic safety advocates are rightly concerned about the potential impact that these changes could have on the frequency of drugged-driving accidents. To help shed some light on this murky and controversial issue, federal researchers spent several months observing the effects of marijuana use on driving skills.
A closer look at driving while high
The study, which was conducted at the University of Mississippi, took place over the course of several months in late 2013 and early 2014. Its subjects were 20 volunteers ranging in age from 21 to 55 years old, all of whom were identified as “occasional” marijuana users – ranging in frequency of use from once a month to three times per week during the three months preceding the study. Using a vaporizer to administer the drug, the test subjects were each given a dose of marijuana equivalent to about one joint and then asked to perform tasks in a sophisticated driving simulator.
The authors of the study say their findings will not be available until 2015 at the earliest. However, previous attempts to document the effects of marijuana on driving skills have yielded mixed results. For example, an informal investigation by a Washington television station in 2013 showed that that volunteers varied widely in their ability to safely navigate a test driving course after smoking marijuana.
Experts say any marijuana use can double crash risk
Despite the questions that remain on the subject, however, most experts agree on one point: Marijuana use can result in an impairment of the skills necessary to drive safely, such as coordination, clear thinking and the ability to react quickly to sudden hazards or changes in traffic conditions.
In an interview with the New York Times, Marilyn A. Huestis of the National Institute on Drug Abuse pointed to a number of studies indicating that drivers are about twice as likely to be involved in a crash when they have any detectable level of THC in their bloodstreams, when compared with drivers who do not. That estimate is widely accepted in the scientific community.
However, research also indicates that a driver’s level of impairment may not correlate directly with increasing THC levels in the same manner that occurs with alcohol impairment. Thus, the challenge lies in finding reliable ways to determine whether a marijuana user is too high to drive. It remains to be seen what the recent federal study may add to that discussion.
Impaired drivers can be liable to victims
In the meantime, it is important to keep in mind that a marijuana user’s own perception of his or her driving ability may not be a reliable indicator. Drivers who cause accidents due to impairment from marijuana or any other intoxicating substance can be liable to injured victims and their families for their medical costs, lost wages and other damages. Be sure to seek advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer if you or a loved one has been hurt in a crash.