Drugged Driving Safer than Drunk Driving?
by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
Drugged Driving is safer than drunk driving in the minds of many teenagers.
In reality marijuana can affect concentration, perception and reaction time up to 24 hours after it’s smoked says the federal director of drug policies, John Walters. That’s much, much longer than alcohol can affect behavior.
But while marijuana might affect behavior much longer than alcohol and be much more dangerous for driving, it is much safer in that people are very rarely arrested for driving while drugged.
A drug counselor and recovering addict, Allison Whitney of Atlanta, says that she got into several crashes as a teenager because of smoking pot while driving. Although she would get pulled over for erratic driving, police would always let her go because she passed breathalyzer tests. 1
Ms. Whitney says marijuana is especially attractive to teenagers because it’s easier to hide than alcohol, a person can get high faster than they can get intoxicated, and parents don’t detect marijuana. In addition, recent nation-wide research has found it easier for young people to buy marijuana than beer because of increased enforcement of laws against the sale of alcoholic beverages to underage persons. 2
A nationwide survey of middle and high school students found that 30% believed that planning to drive was a reason not to drink. However, only about half that number (18%) believed that planning to drive was a reason not to use drugs. 3
Drugs and driving may be a bigger problem than generally recognized. A New England Journal of Medicine report on drivers without alcohol in their systems who were stopped by police for reckless driving found that 45% had marijuana and 25% had cocaine in their systems. 4
A study by the Insurance Institute for Traffic Safety of interstate tractor-trailer drivers found that 15% of all drivers had marijuana, 12% had non-prescription stimulants, 5% had prescription stimulants, 2% had cocaine, and fewer than 1% had alcohol in their systems. 5
A National Transportation Safety Board investigation of fatal truck accidents found that stimulants were the most frequently unidentified (15%) drug class among fatally injured truck drivers. 6
The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration encourages states to test for drugs after a crash. Currently, very few states ever test for illegal drugs under any circumstances.
It appears that very few illegal drug users are ever apprehended for driving while drugged. It’s a virtually ignored problem so it’s understandable that teenagers think driving while drugged is safer than driving while drunk.
filed under: Drinking and Driving