A new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has confirmed what the rest of us figured out in college: driving high is a hell of a lot safer than driving drunk.
While driving sober is obviously the safest option, drivers who used marijuana were at a much lower risk for a crash than drivers had been drinking. As the Washington Post‘s WonkBlog put it, “there is no statistically significant change in the risk of a crash associated with using [marijuana] prior to driving.”
The NHTSA’s study backs up prior data published in the journal Psychopharmacology in 2012, which found only 30% of people under the influence of THC failed a field sobriety test (i.e. the same test you take if you get pulled over while drunk). THC affects the ability to multi-task, balance, perception of time, and peripheral vision — all key elements of driving — marijuana researcher Dr. Marilyn Huestis told Popular Science. But as the New York Times notes, the ability to “handle yourself” while high depends a lot on how accustomed you are to being stoned. In other words, someone who is driving while high for the first time is probably more dangerous on the road than someone who does it several times a week.
The implications of stoned driving will become increasingly important as more states legalize weed. (Four states have legalized recreational marijuana use, while 27 others and Washignton, D.C. have either decriminalized pot or legalized medical marijuana.) Colorado, where recreational pot use became legal in 2013, introduced a funny PSA about its “Drive High, Get a DUI” campaign last year.
There is still much to be figured out regarding the legal ramifications of driving while high, including taking into account the fact that THC stays within the body for weeks after a person consumes pot. But with even the U.S. Surgeon General saying that marijuana policy “should be driving by science” and admitting on a news program that “marijuana can be helpful,” it seems we’ve truly reached a tipping point in our culture.
Bethenny Frankel Wants to Launch Skinnygirl Pot That Won’t Give You the Munchies
Are Women the New Face of Smoking Pot?
U.S. Surgeon General Gives An Inch: “Marijuana Can Be Helpful”