A recent study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) claimed there are essentially no risks involved with driving under the influence of marijuana.
According to USA Today, the study considered over 3,000 drivers that were in crashes in a 20-month period in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and looked for what — if any — substances could have potentially been causative agents.
The study then looked at 6,000 control drivers who were not involved in any accidents over the same time frame.
“There’s more and more of this on the highway and (marijuana’s effect on driving abilities is) something we know relatively little about,” said Gordon Trowbridge, communications director at the NHTSA. “It was the most closely controlled study of its kind that has ever been conducted.”
According to USA Today, the study concluded that alcohol was a far more likely cause of car crashes. The study found that a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) at the legal level of .08 percent is four times as likely to crash than a driver that is not under the influence of alcohol.
Furthermore, a driver with a BAC of .15 percent is 12 times as likely to be involved in an accident.
The study claimed that a driver under the influence of marijuana has only a five percent elevated risk of crashing than a sober driver. However, officials have admitted that these results are a bit surprising, given the effects that THC can potentially have on one’s brain.
“There are definitely risks involved in driving under the influence of any substance,” deputy sheriff and former highway patrol officer John Tryner said.
Tryner also said that while we do not know much about marijuana and driving specifically, it is proven that THC does affect the brain and alter perceptions, like any drug would.
Ileana Jimenez, a sophomore journalism major at The University of Southern Mississippi, said that the potential risks of driving under the influence of marijuana is ultimately dependent on the individual person and is a difficult situation to generalize.
“I’ve seen many people who are better drivers when they are under the influence of marijuana,” Jimenez said.
“However, I wouldn’t suggest driving under the influence of it because smoking can slow your reaction time and generally make you uncoordinated. I know several people who were under the influence (of marijuana) that have been involved in accidents that could have been avoided.”
“We know from previous simulator studies that marijuana does have an effect that degrades the ability of drivers,” Towbridge said in the USA Today article. “It is good to be cautious about drawing sweeping conclusions.”
However, according to USA Today, the research is far from complete at this time and the NHTSA is currently working on other studies to help understand the effect of legalization on traffic safety.
NHTSA has also partnered with the National Institute on Drug Abuse to better understand the effect of marijuana on driver performance.