There’s good news and bad news when it comes to the habits of drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Recently, the organization released a report that said that while the rates of drivers drinking and then getting behind the wheel are down, the number of drivers who are operating vehicles despite being impaired by substances is on the rise.
The good news is very good. The rate of drunk driving has dropped by almost a third since 2007. Even more impressive is the fact that the rate of drunk driving has plummeted by 75 percent since the agency first began conducting these surveys back in 1973.
But the bad news is pretty bad, too: the NHTSA survey found that about a quarter of drivers had marijuana or illegal drugs in their systems while they were behind the wheel. Almost one-fourth of all drivers on the road are under the influence of something – one driver in every four cars that passes you on average – that’s a big deal.
Mark Rosekind is an NHTSA Administrator. He said: “America made drunk driving a national issue. And while there is no victory as long as a single American dies in an alcohol-related crash, a one-third reduction in alcohol use over just seven years shows how a focused effort and cooperation among the federal government, states and communities, law enforcement, safety advocates and industry can make an enormous difference.
“At the same time, the latest Roadside Survey raises significant questions about drug use and highway safety. The rising prevalence of marijuana and other drugs is a challenge to everyone who is dedicated to saving lives and reducing crashes.”
Legalization of Marijuana
Part of the increase in the rates of drugged driving may have something to do with legalization of marijuana for recreational use in some states and medical use in others. If people view marijuana as a medication, they may not consider that the side effects of that medication may make it more difficult for them to operate a vehicle safely.
It’s one of the many issues related to the legalization of marijuana that have yet to be dialed in completely in the states with the new legislation. It took a few months to determine what level of THC in the blood would indicate that the user was too high to drive, and there are still no portable on-site tests that can accurately and unquestionably determine whether or not marijuana has impaired a driver.
Comparatively, 0.08 blood alcohol content is the well-known legal limit for drivers, and a breathalyzer test is available to law enforcement that will help them to enforce this legal limit on the spot.
In the coming months and years, it is likely that technology will improve to the point that police will be able to accurately assess the amount of THC in a driver’s system should he be pulled over, so they can enforce the legal consequences of making such a dangerous choice.
For those who use marijuana recreationally, they simply may not be considering the consequences of driving while under the influence. Though a great effort has been made to raise awareness about the impact of alcohol on one’s driving skills, the same has not been done about marijuana’s effect on drivers. People know that it’s not just drunk driving that causes deadly accidents but “buzzed driving” as well, and that is due in great part to the public service announcements that air regularly as well as education in schools. Without a similar effort directed at marijuana users – especially in states where the drug is legalized for any purpose – we may not see a decrease in rates of drugged driving any time soon.
How Much Is Too Much?
Without a breathalyzer in your back pocket to tell you what your BAC is at any given moment and with no ability to ascertain the level of THC in the body after use (especially given the wide range of potency levels among marijuana plants and products), how do you know when you’ve had too much to drive safely?
For some, it’s a matter of just taking a moment to ask the question. If you’re about to get in the car after smoking marijuana or drinking, simply stopping as a matter of course to think about whether or not you’re thinking clearly and quickly, and whether you are in a position to safely drive a vehicle, can be enough to recognize that it would be better for someone who is completely sober to get behind the wheel.
For others, it makes sense to check in with someone else, setting up a check in with an accountability partner who intends to remain sober if you know you’re headed somewhere where you’ll be drinking or smoking weed. That person may remind you of your agreement, stop you from getting in the car if you forget, and give you a more objective opinion of your state of mind and driving abilities before you test it out to your own detriment.
In most cases, however, the go-to response to driving after any amount of substance use is just not to do it – ever or under any circumstances. It is far safer to simply take a cab or have a sober driver who agrees not to have a sip of alcohol or use any substance in any amount on the nights when you intend to drink or get high. Even a little bit can be too much, and even if you feel you are fine to drive, you may not realize just how impaired you are until it’s too late.