Study Shows Similar Accident Rate to Drunk Driving

In a national study involving more than 9,000 drivers, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) found that one in four persons driving under the influence of marijuana was more likely to have a motor vehicle accident than persons not driving while stoned.

However, the statistics were significantly different from those for drinking and driving. Studies generally show that a person with a .08 blood alcohol content or higher (the legal limit in most states) is four times as likely to be in a car accident as someone who is sober. According to the NHTSA, the likelihood of a crash rises almost exponentially as the BAC goes up. For example, persons with a .15 blood alcohol content or higher have a 12-fold likelihood of a motor vehicle collision.

Researchers acknowledge that there are specific challenges to determining whether a person is technically “driving under the influence” of marijuana. For purposes of the study, researchers concluded that a driver “tested positive” for driving under the influence of marijuana if there was any THC (tetrahydroconnabinal) in the driver’s system at the time of the accident. This can be misleading, as THC tends to linger in fatty tissue long after a person has used marijuana, and long after the high is gone.

Researchers say that, because of this challenge, there may have been many who technically tested positive, but who were not under the influence of marijuana at the time. If those people are removed from the study, the percentages who were involved in crashes goes much higher.

Officials warn, though, that this is not reliable evidence that driving under the influence of marijuana is safer than driving under the influence of alcohol. They cite extensive research that indicates that consumption of marijuana slows down reflex time, impairs judgment and impacts awareness.
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