Why Marijuana Use Can Lead to Bigger Driving Fears

by on November 19, 2013

marijuanaAs if worrying about motorists who drive around drunk isn’t enough to fuel driving anxiety and driving fears, a new slew of concerns is coming to a head about those who drive under the influence of marijuana. The apprehension stems from the drug’s increasing popularity, much of it due to more states legalizing the drug for medical use, according to an article in the Beaumont Times.

Two camps have already formed. Law enforcement and safety traffic officials say pot makes driving go to pot, creating more hazards on the road. The marijuana backers on the other side say driving under the influence may not be the smartest move, but the fears are overblown.

But are they?

Marijuana Side Effects 

Despite the back-and-forth arguing over just how dangerous it may be to smoke pot and drive, what can’t be argued is the typical slate of side effects marijuana can bring. As we note, those side effects can potentially wreak havoc on the road.

Regular use and abuse of marijuana can result in:

  • Crummy memory – Potentially leading to wrong turns, getting lost, forgetting where you’re going or perhaps even forgetting you’re driving in a car
  • Heightened sense of perceptions, particularly with taste, sight and sound – Potentially leading to distractions when the heightened sense pulls attention from the road
  • Increased appetite – Yet another distraction waiting to happen
  • Trouble concentrating – Not only from heightened perceptions running amok and being waylaid by a firm case of the munchies, but also in general
  • Crummy coordination – Don’t try rolling down the window, adjusting the radio or tying to make that sharp turn, especially at the same time
  • Decreased reaction time – Better start braking for those stop signs well in advance
  • Red eyes – All the worse for seeing the road with, no?
  • Paranoia – Not typically an advantageous thing to experience while driving (especially if you’re already plagued with driving fears, driving anxiety and driving phobias)

One more possible effect of consistent marijuana use is addiction. While folks who toke regularly may not become physically addicted with a chemical dependence, Mayo Clinic says they can certainly develop a psychological dependence that makes them feel like they need the drug to function. 

The Beaumont Times also notes the drug’s active ingredient of THC kicks around in the urine and blood for several days after smoking it. Even though users are no longer high, they may still test positive on drug screenings, landing in enormous trouble from small traffic violations if they end up being pulled over.

Arguments that Back up Marijuana Driving Fears

A study out of Canada’s Dalhousie University Medical School found a link between marijuana use and traffic accidents. When compared to motorists who were free of drugs and/or alcohol, marijuana users were about twice as likely to cause a traffic accident within a three hour period after using the drug.

Then there’s the statement from the nation’s Drug Czar, aka director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Gil Kerlikowske is quoted in the Beaumont Times as saying:

“Smoking marijuana has a very negative effect on your ability to operate a motor vehicle,” he says. “It’s quite dangerous to you, your passengers and others on the road.”

The Arguments that Say Concerns are Hooey

At the top of the heap of arguments that the driving fears concerning marijuana are overblown is a study mentioned in passing by the Beaumont Times. The Times says marijuana advocates bring up a study that indicated driving under the influence of marijuana was no more risky than driving under the influence of penicillin or antihistamines.

A study by two American researchers, out of Montana State University and the University of Colorado in Denver, found states that had medical marijuana laws also had a decrease in traffic fatalities. The researchers figured marijuana users who were opting for it in place of alcohol tended to consume it at home, rather than head out to the bar like they do for drinking.

A quote from the spokesman of the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans United for Safe Access, also adds to the argument about marijuana use and driving safety. The Times quotes the group’s spokesman Kris Hermes as noting:

“Marijuana has been in use for decades without significant risk on the roads,” Hermes said. “We don’t need to suddenly protect the public from a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Another take, of course, is that the problem may have persisted all along, but remains difficult to weed out. Many states have a blanket “driving under the influence” violation that covers driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs, and pretty much anything that can impede your ability to drive safely.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Roadside Survey from 2007 looked at the state of 10,000 drivers, finding illegal drug use in 11.6 percent of them. Marijuana ranked as the most popular drug, consumed by 8.6 percent of them.

The Bottom Line

We tend to agree with yet another person quoted in the Beaumont Times when it comes to the bottom line. After noting that driving is the most hazardous thing we do on a regular basis, Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety said: 

“Anything you do (while driving) that changes your perception, reaction times, reasoning (and) alertness is a threat to public safety, no question.”

While you can’t control what other drivers do, you can definitely increase your own safety factor by refraining from driving under the influence – of anything. Staying alert, aware and calm are key factors to driving safely, especially if you suffer from driving anxiety and driving fears to begin with.

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