We have all been told not to drink and drive. Have you been told not to smoke and drive? Here’s what has happened in the world of bizarre events: Everyone knows that kid. A stereotypical pothead, he loves to light up a joint on a long road trip — even when he is driving. Especially when he is driving. Hell roll down the windows and take a few hits, sometimes in succession. In no time, the car fills with the potent smell of weed. In the back, the passengers tense (or not. Theyre probably smoking, too). But should they fear for their lives, really?
Everywhere in the media, were bombarded with anti-drinking and driving ads, and for a good reason. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, a person dies every 53 minutes in a drunk driving related crash. Drunk driving costs the United States 132 billion dollars a year. Every 90 seconds, someone will be injured in a drunk driving accident. The message is loud and clear: drunk driving can and will cost you your life.
And then, theres weed. Despite the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington state and societys increasingly more lenient attitude toward cannabis, we dont really hear much about smoking and driving. And yet, nearly five percent of drivers in the United States admit to driving while under the influence of weed. Between 40 and 80 percent of marijuana users have gotten behind the wheel at least once while high. Is this a bad thing? Does it matter?
As it turns out, the scientific community has mixed feelings on the subject. A 2002 Canadian government study concluded that marijuana has little to no effect on driving skills, especially when its been consumed in small doses. A University of Colorado Denver study even suggests that legalizing medical marijuana reduces traffic fatalities, since there is evidence that making weed accessible also decreases alcohol consumption, thus preventing drunk driving accidents. The Department of Motor Vehicles, however, tells a different story. Since cannabis impairs a persons judgement, it argues, the drug will have some sort of effect on a drivers abilities as well. The DMV does admit that the number of pot related accidents is minimal compared to alcohol related accidents. According to a Dalhousie University study, though, a stoned driver is twice as likely to get into a car accident than a sober one.
All in all, the evidence is conflicting.
We dont really know if marijuana can impair a drivers ability, explains pharmacy student Michael Habib. We know that there is a little effect on performance with visual and auditory tasks that require attention, such as driving, but as far as we know, the effect is not that significant.
A pot user, who prefers to go by D, says that he enjoys driving and smoking. He doesnt feel that doing so hinders his ability to drive. I would never drive drunk, he says. If Ive had a few beers, Ill definitely wait before I get in the car. But I dont feel that weed changes everything. Im able to focus just as well — maybe even better.
Apparently, the jurys still out on that one.