In Canada, smoking pot might not be as frowned upon as it once was, but driving while high is still questionable. While some consider it an impairment akin to drinking and driving, others say that marijuana increases awareness on the road and focuses the driver, allowing him or her to be more cautious. But as any experienced driver knows, traffic can be unpredictable. It doesn’t matter how aware, cautious or slow you are going… sometimes things happen.
So, does one ever really feel confident “blazing” down the “high” way in a Hyundai Sonata? Can one ever be certain that a Toyota Venza won’t pull out of an intersection unexpectedly or merge without warning? I ask: should an accident happen, would you want to be sober and competent or would you rather be panicky, high and paranoid? You make the judgement.
High On DUI
In the British Medical Journal, researchers found that the risk of accidents double should a pot smoker choose to drive within three hours after smoking. Although there wasn’t an exact correlation between driving high and accidents, the journal found that those involved in a collision have higher levels of tetrahyrocannabinol (THC), a key compound in marijuana.
The research states, “[TCH] concentrations might also be important, with minor collisions more likely than fatal collisions to involve drivers with lower concentrations of cannabis.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has stated that approximately 18% of fatal accidents involve drug consumption other than alcohol, and that statistic includes weed. In addition, one in nine drivers involved in fatal collisions will test positive for marijuana, according to Guohua Li, director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia.
Marijuana use, although is becoming more lenient, is also causing law enforcement to reconsider the term impairment. An article from the 2009 American Journal of Addiction showed that, unlike alcohol, smoking weed has a different effect on different people and measuring impairment may be trickier than conducting a breathalyser.
“We have this notion that since we have a magic number for alcohol, we are going to have a similar number for marijuana,” Paul Armentano, the deputy director NORML said in a The New York Timesinterview. “The problem is that marijuana is not metabolized and absorbed by the body in the same way alcohol is.”
But in terms of medical use, the same way some patients shouldn’t operate heavy machinery on certain pharmaceutical medication, so shouldn’t stoners. Mothers Against Drunk Driving is recommending a zero tolerance rule, while roadside officers are willing to put suspected impaired drivers through a physical coordination test called Standard Field Sobriety Test. Failing the test will result in an evaluation from a drug recognition expert and advance on further charges from there.
The punishment for DUI is different in each province, but one thing is certain, the consequence is definitely not something to get high about.
Green Means Go
Pot smokers are known to overcompensate for their diminished motor skills by being cautious and slow on the road. In incidents where officers have pulled over drivers suspected of smoking and driving, the suspects were recognized to be coherent and respectful. There have been many examples where suspects have been acquitted in court due to limited evidence.
Unlike alcohol, which is often known as the aggressor and accelerant for rash decision-making, pot is a relaxant and is much safer than alcohol. But should drivers drop their guard and be relaxed on the road?
“When you’re high, you’re supposed to be relaxed,” 18-year-old Madelyn told Teen Vogue. “But when you’re driving, you technically can’t be! I went numb. I wasn’t sure if I was pressing the gas or the brakes or if I was moving at all. It was really intense, and the colours from the cars and the headlights were all blurring.”
While traditional-thinking people are against pot use and driving, others are presenting new studies that say weed is in fact making our streets safer.
“Our research suggests that the legalization of medical marijuana reduces traffic fatalities through reducing alcohol consumption by young adults,” Daniel Rees, professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver and co-author of the study said. Rees added, “Although we make no policy recommendations, it certainly appears as though medical marijuana laws are making our highways safer.”
Because there is so little information available about the result of driving high, researchers are looking at the stats on total fatalities on the roads in relation to the legalization and increased usage of marijuana.
Don’t Be a Dope
Whether you are on your way to White Castle or to watch a delightful movie, we must understand that the driver will always be responsible for their actions prior to stepping behind the wheel. If you are tired, you shouldn’t drive; if you are drunk, you shouldn’t drive; if you are high… you probably shouldn’t drive either. After all, wouldn’t you rather just chill than burn out?