In recent weeks, headlines from around the country recently blared some version of the following: “Stoned Drivers Are Safer Than Drunk Drivers.”
The source was a pair of studies released recently by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which was analyzing the number of drivers with alcohol and/or drugs in their systems and rating the crash risk of each.
But the true message seems lost in translation. First of all, stoned driving isn’t inherently safer than drunk driving. The fact is, marijuana consumption does impair a driver’s reaction time, depth perception and other skills critical driving. The reason why drivers who tested positive for marijuana had a lower crash risk than those who tested positive for alcohol has less to do with which is safer and far more to do with the way these chemicals are processed in our bodies.
Secondly, while the overall number of drunk driving incidents is down, we are seeing an increase in the number of drivers who may be under the influence of prescription drugs or illegal substances.
Florida may have been the first state in the country to reject medical marijuana at the polls, but momentum for the issue remains strong. It’s likely we’re going to see the measure crop up again in 2016, and if it passes, we may well see an even more dramatic spike in the number of drivers who are operating under the influence of marijuana.
The AAA Drugged Driving Summit was held recently in Tampa, and traffic safety advocates and researchers pointed out the concentration of THC in today’s strands of marijuana is roughly 30 percent – compared to a concentration of between 1 and 3 percent in most strands distributed three decades ago. So Americans are not only consuming more, they are becoming more highly intoxicated when they do.
In one of the NHTSA’s studies, it was reported that when adjusted for age, race, gender and alcohol use, drivers who tested positive for marijuana weren’t more likely to crash than those who hadn’t used drugs or alcohol prior to driving. But here’s the problem with this finding – one the NHTSA is quick to note: Marijuana does not exit the body at the same pace as alcohol. The drug can remain in the body for days or even weeks after use. Even high levels of the drug are not necessarily an indication of recent use or impairment. A person who uses the drug regularly would have high levels of the psychoactive chemical in their blood stream, even if he or she never drives impaired.
So in reality, the study doesn’t actually tell us much about how safe it is to drive while stoned because, as the study authors concede, we don’t really know how many of those drivers were impaired and how many were simply users.
There is no denying, however, the risk of alcohol consumption, which researchers noted increased a driver’s crash risk by 700 percent. But alcohol travels through the body at a much faster rate. So when a driver tests positive for a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 or higher, they are more likely than not impaired.
This information does pose some problems for Fort Myers accident attorneys because a driver who is under the influence of marijuana and/or other drugs may attempt to deny impairment by pointing out that toxicity levels don’t necessarily equal intoxication. In criminal cases, the burden of proof threshold on this point is high. It’s not as high for plaintiffs in civil cases, but it is certainly a challenge to overcome – which is why it’s imperative for victims to seek immediate legal counsel from an established firm.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Stoned drivers are a lot safer than drunk ones, new federal data show, Feb. 9, 2015, By Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post
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