Now that recreational marijuana use is legal in California, drivers may face heightened risks on the road. “Drugged driving” has become a key issue for law enforcement statewide. After alcohol, marijuana is the most common substance involved in intoxicated driving, according to the CDC.
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – the psychoactive component of marijuana – impairs driving in numerous ways. It affects the user’s judgment, coordination, concentration, memory, and balance. It slows reaction times, distorts perception, clouds decision-making, and derails the motor skills that are so critical for safe driving. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some studies have found that marijuana use doubles the risk of an accident.
When marijuana is combined with even a small amount of alcohol – a commonplace occurrence at social gatherings – these effects intensify.
More widespread marijuana use = more intoxicated drivers?
But does legalized marijuana really lead to more intoxicated driving? Aren’t most recreational users responsible?
A recent study by the Highway Loss Data Institute sheds light on the link between legalized marijuana and increased motor vehicle accident claims. Specifically, the study found that Colorado, Washington, and Oregon saw a nearly 3-percent spike in claims since legalizing recreational marijuana.
Challenges for law enforcement
Unlike alcohol, marijuana isn’t subject to a bright-line limit in terms of blood concentration. Nor is there an accurate roadside test for detecting THC levels. As a result, it’s harder for law enforcement to identify intoxicated drivers.
Warning signs such as careless driving, bloodshot eyes, and blank stares may give the police reason to pursue an arrest and subsequent blood test. But by the time the test actually takes place, hours later, the driver’s THC levels may have dissipated.
Stay safe on the roads
Now more than ever, it’s important to use caution when driving – especially during the night, weekends, and holidays. Drunk drivers aren’t the only hazards to watch out for. Those under the influence of marijuana may exhibit similar behaviors such as:
- Drifting across lane lines
- Failing to heed traffic signs
If you’re suspicious, don’t hesitate to call 911. Your life – and the lives of those around you – may depend on it.