The number of states legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana continues to rise. This has raised many questions. The latest question focusing on whether or not legalization of marijuana means more “medicated” drivers getting behind the wheel in an altered state. Thus far, little is known about driving stoned or how much driving under the influence of marijuana will add to the number of auto accidents and driving deaths.
Research reveals that marijuana does indeed impair specific areas of cognition and perception. In one experiment participants were given simple tasks to complete while stoned the investigative team learned that while these actions remained within the users’ capabilities, “more areas of the brain needed to be engaged in order to do so.” Marijuana created difficulty in multitasking, decreased peripheral vision and slowed reaction times to “sudden events.”
Researchers believe the affected areas could cause significant problems while driving. On the other hand, other experiments revealed that people who are stoned are aware that they are impaired and attempt to take actions to deal with it. Researchers also investigated the possibilities of higher risk of fatalities and accidents as the result of pot-impaired driving only to find “conflicting results.”
States with legalized marijuana have also found inconclusive results when trying to establish the increased risks and prevalence of drivers who are high. The state of Washington has registered a 25 percent increase in drivers who tested positive for pot and yet failed to find an increase in auto accidents to coincide with this increase in drugged drivers. California and Hawaii have had an increase in accidents but the research has not yet been successfully replicated leaving some to believe the initial research was flawed.
In fact, testing methods used by law enforcement are also flawed. Roadside saliva tests are sometimes used but the components being tested stay in saliva for many hours after smoking marijuana. Blood tests actually pick up the presence of pot long after it is actually used. So it is currently difficult to determine if a driver was indeed driving high when he/she caused a crash or had an accident.
Deborah Hersman, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told the press: “If states legalize marijuana, they must set clear limits for impairment behind the wheel and require mandatory drug testing following a crash,” She concluded: “Right now we have a patchwork system across the nation regarding mandatory drug testing following highway crashes.”