There’s a long-standing debate over what’s safer…driving drunk or driving high. Several people say that driving high is worse than driving drunk. Others claim that driving stoned is just about as safe as driving sober once variables are accounted for. So, what gives? Is driving high actually safer than driving drunk?
Studies Show Driving on Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol
A groundbreaking study was conducted in 2011. It showed states that had legalized medical marijuana had an almost 9 percent drop in traffic fatalities. Beer sales dropped by 5 percent the same year. According to Daniel Rees, co-author of the study and professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver, “Our research suggests that the legalization of medical marijuana reduces traffic fatalities through reducing alcohol consumption by young adults.”
In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Administration found nothing that suggested driving while high dramatically increased a person’s chances of getting in an accident. Driving drunk, on the other hand, significantly increases the risk of an accident.
There have been several studies conducted regarding the issue. Many point to the same thing. That driving high is an entirely different ballgame than driving drunk.
One of the most eye-opening findings of these studies comes from data collected by the Marshall Project. It was found that many of the studies cite that driving high is about equal to having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .01-.05. This is a limit legal in all 50 states. One researcher even said that the risk of getting in a car accident when high is “so small you can compare it to driving in darkness compared to driving in daylight.”
Alcohol Increases Car Crash Risk…Does Cannabis?
It’s no secret that cannabis is a mind-altering substance. People wouldn’t use it to get high if it wasn’t. Smoking weed will impair a person’s ability to drive. But how much it will impair a person is another story. With alcohol, there has been a long-established correlation between how much a person drinks and their risk for getting in an accident. The more a person has to drink, the higher the risk becomes for a car crash.
Weed, on the other hand, is different. There is no clear distinction of how much cannabis a person can ingest and how “high” it will make them. THC levels spike quickly after smoking, then decline rapidly in the following hours. People more accustomed to smoking pot are also affected differently than unseasoned users.
According to Washington State University political scientist, Nicolas Lovrich, “If you’re stopping someone who just tried it or uses it occasionally, a little bit of THC goes a long way—they’re very impaired. But people are demonstrably able to drive at high levels of THC if they’re a frequent user.”
The opposite holds true for those accustomed to drinking high levels of alcohol. Even people who drink a lot aren’t able to safely drive when they’ve had too much to drink. Alcohol significantly impairs a person’s ability to drive a car. According the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 10,265 people died in 2015 from alcohol-related car accidents. This is approximately one death every 58 minutes due to alcohol consumption.
They also noted that marijuana users were about 25 percent more likely to be involved in car accidents than people not using marijuana. They stated however, that other factors (such as age and gender) may account for the increased crash risk among marijuana users.
Driving under the influence of any mind-altering substance is never a good idea. No matter how many people say pot makes them drive better. Driving drunk however, seems to pose a much more significant risk than driving high. And if drunk driving fatalities continue to fall as marijuana is legalized in more states, it’s likely people will begin to realize it.