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Are Stoned Drivers Really More Safe than Drunk Ones?

Marijuana has long been painted as a dangerous drug that not only causes impairment, but is just a dangerous as alcohol for individuals who get behind the wheel. While law enforcement and the general public quickly bought in to this idea, is the data really there to back up these claims?

In a recent study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the findings directly contrast this idea, showing that drivers who use marijuana are at a much lower risk for accidents than those who drink alcohol. After calculating some adjustments for age, gender, and other factors, the data revealed that stoned drivers were no more dangerous or likely to get into an accident than drivers who had not consumed any alcohol or drugs before getting behind the wheel. Overall, the study highlighted that alcohol is significantly more dangerous than drugs like marijuana, painkillers, and sedatives—nearly seven times as dangerous to be exact.

What do these statistics mean for drivers?

The study measured alcohol use as a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .05 or more in drivers. This amount increases the likelihood a person will be involved in an accident by more than 600%. Not only that, but the study further showed that even a measurable presence of THC in an individual’s system had no correlation or impact on their likelihood of being in a serious auto collision.

So does this mean that being under the influence of marijuana or other drugs won’t affect a driver at all? While the statistics don’t show a direct correlation, it does not mean these substances are unable to cause impairment. Measuring drug presence in the body is much more difficult than alcohol, as there is no set standard or amount as there is with BAC. It is extremely difficult to predict and judge the absorption and elimination rate of marijuana from a person’s system. Measurable amounts of THC can even be found in a driver’s body weeks after usage, long after any type of impairment has worn off. This may be watering down statistics even more and causing confusion over the actual risks of drug usage.

While marijuana may not affect drivers as significantly as alcohol, that does not mean drivers should not use caution when consuming the substance in states where marijuana is legal. As more and more states move to legalize this drug, improved testing abilities and mechanisms need to be developed to determine an accurate level of impairment so that law enforcement can hold drivers accountable when necessary. Without these determinations, stoned driving remains a very grey area, despite what statistics may show.