Pot has recently been legalized in Colorado, where I live, and so I’m often wondering just how many people driving are under the influence of pot (and of course, I’m always wondering how many are drunk, too).
Colorado marijuana advocates like to point out, in their defense, the disasters that alcohol causes on the road; they like to deflect attention away from pot and onto drunken driving. But this deflection doesn’t change facts.
The May 2014 issue of Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs has a report stating that teenagers who smoke pot and drink alcohol may be putting themselves at risk for unsafe driving.
Who would have thought?
The study revealed that high school seniors, who had both smoked marijuana and drank liquor, had higher rates of car accidents and traffic tickets/warnings.
Kids who used pot and alcohol at the same time had a 50 to 90 percent greater likelihood of admitting to unsafe driving than did teens who did not use marijuana or alcohol.
“It’s well known that both drinking and other drug use are linked to risky driving,” notes Yvonne Terry-McElrath, lead researcher, from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.
Marijuana supporters in Colorado may want to know how many teens were studied. The data comes from surveys of over 72,000 American high school seniors, conducted every year between 1976 and 2011.
Colorado pot users may also be curious if the same unsafe driving risks would be present in adults. The study specifically looked at high school seniors, but there’s no reason to believe that the risk of dangerous driving would magically disappear on someone’s 21st birthday.
Colorado marijuana supporters also like to point out the dangers of texting while driving. Nobody’s denying that. There’s more than one behavior that impairs the ability to control a motor vehicle, and that includes eating while driving and applying makeup while driving.
But this deflection does not take away from the fact that pot slows reaction time and causes other compromises in brain function that can lead to accidents on the road. Certainly, many people in Colorado believe there should be laws against eating while driving, but let’s stop deflecting.
The report points out that the increased incidence of accidents in the pot plus alcohol users may be related to risk taking, rather than chemicals affecting the brain. But Terry-McElrath says that “it’s also possible that using both drugs together impairs teenagers’ driving — and judgment — to a greater degree.”