Is driving while high on marijuana as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol? Obviously, how much alcohol or marijuana matters. A driver who has a .19 blood alcohol content (BAC) is almost certainly going to be a more dangerous driver than someone who took two hits of marijuana.
There are far fewer studies on the effects of driving under the influence of marijuana compared to the years of research on how alcohol affects a driver. Experts who study the impacts of driving while high are still sorting it out. One thing is clear: fatal vehicular accidents involving a driver under the influence of cannabis have increased, more than doubling from 2000-2018. In those years, fatal accidents involving a driver under the influence of marijuana went from 9% to 22%. The percentage of drunk driving fatalities during those years remained about same.
While marijuana-involved fatalities have increased, there is evidence that driving under the influence of cannabis is less deadly than driving under the influence of alcohol. Several studies have suggested that a driver who is high on marijuana is around twice as likely to be involved in a fatal accident as compared to a sober driver. That is a matter of concern. However, it is estimated that a drunk driver is almost 18 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident!
Things are further complicated by how the marijuana is ingested. A person who smokes marijuana will feel the effects right away, and those effects will slowly subside. But a person who ingests the cannabis as an edible will not feel the effects until the cannabis is metabolized by the liver and that could take up to an hour, or even longer. The high that is induced by an edible may also be more intense and long-lasting than smoking the product. Because a person might ingest an edible and not feel the full effects for some time, it may pose a dangerous situation if someone thinks they are fine to drive but then find themselves getting increasingly high from the edible after they are on the road.
Despite the relatively recent, and somewhat limited, studies of driving under the influence of marijuana, there are known dangers. A driver high on marijuana has a delayed response time and may experience difficulties changing lanes. A person who is high also has an altered sense of time – they experience everything as slower than it actually is. Some people suffer paranoia while high on cannabis, which could induce a panic attack while driving. Controlled studies have also demonstrated that many people who are high on marijuana are unable to access how impaired they are and mistakenly believe they are safe to drive. (This is also true of drunk drivers.)
Many have celebrated the legalization of recreational marijuana, but we must also recognize that legal cannabis has introduced another hazard on the road. Sure, people drove high on marijuana before it was legal, but there can be no doubt that that is more common in this era of legal recreational use. Furthermore, with the legalization of cannabis, the products sold are increasingly more potent, adding to the concern than driving under the influence of marijuana may become as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.
If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, Orange County DUI defense attorney William Weinberg offers a complimentary consultation. He will review the details of your arrest and the charges against you and advise you of your options and defenses. You may contact him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.