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SURVEY RESPONDENTS BELIEVE HIGH DRIVERS ARE LESS DANGEROUS THAN SLEEPY DRIVERS

 

The American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety recently released the results of its annual Traffic Safety Culture Index. Among the findings is that 70 percent of the respondents believe driving under the influence of cannabis is very dangerous or extremely dangerous.  While this is a significant percentage, it is far below the 96 percent of respondents who thought driving while drowsy was very or extremely dangerous, 95.1 percent thought the same for driving under the influence of alcohol (over the legal limit), and 87.4 percent for driving under the influence of prescription drugs. A small but significant portion of the respondents – seven percent – thought it was just fine to drive under the influence of cannabis, whereas only 1.6 percent thought it was okay to drive under the influence of alcohol.

Clearly, a significant portion of the survey respondents – and all are drivers – believe that driving under the influence of marijuana is not as dangerous as many other potentially dangerous driving habits. Does this belief hold up? Study after study has concluded that driving under the influence of cannabis impairsa driver’s motor coordination, tracking, attention, concentration, the perception of time and distance, and reaction time. All can certainly affect a driver’s ability to drive safely. However, these impairments do not appear to be as pronounced as drivers who are under the influence of alcohol. But let’s be clear, just as there are varying degrees of alcohol inebriation, so too, cannabis intoxication can run the gamut from a mild high to hallucinations.

Cannabis edibles – a popular method of consuming cannabis – are often consumed in dose quantities that cause a much stronger high that other delivery methods. Furthermore, edibles are metabolized differently by the body, converting the THC to a stronger form that can cross the blood-brain barrier, causing a longer and far more intense high than one gets when smoking or “vaping” cannabis. In fact, there are many reports of a “psychedelic” experience on high dose edibles. Surely driving under the influence of edibles is unsafe.

No one should drive high on marijuana but to be fair, even the National Highway Safety Administration admits that drivers who are under the influence of cannabis may drive more cautiously, while still warning that driving while high on marijuana is by no means safe. Chief among the worries about high drivers is that even moderate impairment can affect a driver’s ability to respond rapidly to hazards on the road.

Driving under the influence of cannabis is illegalbut enforcement is problematic. Compared to alcohol impairment, law enforcement cannot readily detect whether a driver is under the influence of cannabis. For this reason and other impediments to accurate record keeping on cannabis-influenced driving, there is limited data on cannabis-related impaired driving and crashes. With the use of recreational marijuana now legal in California and many other states, more data is expected. We already know for some studies that the proportion of drivers involved in fatal accidents  who tested positive for cannabis has increased significantly but what we don’t know is if those drivers were under the influence of cannabis at the time since THC can remain in a person’s system long after the high has worn off.

However this plays out, responsible drivers should view driving under the influence of cannabis in the same way that driving under the influence of alcohol is viewed. According the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, attitudes about driving while high still have some catching up to do.

DUI defense attorney William Weinberg has defended hundred of drivers charged with driving under the influence. His expertise and knowledge of the law is your best defense. He is available for a complimentary consultation to discuss your matter and explore your options. You may contact him at his Irvine office by calling (949) 474-8008 or by emailing him at bill@williamweinberg.com.

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