Studies Show Millions Drive Under the Influence—of Marijuana

There is widespread knowledge that driving drunk is dangerous, but why don’t we talk about driving under the influence of drugs? A recent study says millions do drive high from marijuana, cocaine, and meth.

Society has learned the hard way that driving drunk is a huge no-no. However, the conversation about driving high and under the influence of any form of drug is widely under-discussed. However, that does not mean that it’s safe.

The most recent national estimates of drivers under the influence notes that millions are driving high, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One December Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that last year, 12 million American adults said they had driven under the influence of weed in the last 12 months prior to the survey. To make matters worse, about 2.3 million of these said they had driven under the influence of illicit drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine.

This means that 4.7 percent of Americans drive under the influence of marijuana, and 0.9 percent drive under the influence of other drugs, according to a CNN article. While these numbers are indeed lower than the rate at which people drove while intoxicated (at 8 percent of drivers) in 2018, the fact of the matter still remains: people are driving high.

Some demographics and ages are more likely than others to drive under the influence of drugs. Males were more likely to report using marijuana or drugs than female drivers. People between the ages of 21 and 25 were most likely to use pot before driving. The second highest group to report using weed were, unsurprisingly, teenagers between the ages of 16 and 20. It’s important to note that teen driving under the influence of marijuana is of “special concern” since newer drivers already have a heightened risk of causing accidents because of their inexperience on the road.

 The survey also found that non-Hispanic, multiracial persons were most likely to drive under the influence at 9.2 percent.

The neurological and physical effects of marijuana are still not fully understood. It is known from earlier studies, however, that weed can seriously alter a person’s judgement, perception, ability to think clearly and reaction time.

However, detecting a high driver is not the same as detecting a drunk one. In fact, there is no national standards or standardized tests for marijuana-impaired driving. Still, marijuana is legal in a number of states around the country, and police enforcement routinely have difficulty detecting high drivers.

Researchers also hope that states will adopt standards for toxicology tests and encourage collaboration between law enforcement and public health officials to develop a better way to test and prevent drug-impaired driving.

The call for action does not stop there, though. Several agencies have asked states and the federal government to worker harder at protecting the public from impaired drivers. In 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board cited an increase in the number of drug-impaired drivers across the country and issued a call to action to do more to stop the problem. Two years ago, a 2017 study found that the legalization of marijuana did not increase the number of fatal accidents; however, states that legalized its use have been seeing more crashes overall since.

The prevalence of drug-impaired drivers on the road is a widespread public health and safety concern, for sure. But when you consider the number of individuals who need to drive as a part of their jobs, the increase in high drivers becomes an employee concern as well. Many employed individuals use drugs in some form—either with prescriptions or illicitly. This public health concern should be a red flag for employers, as they need to make sure they are doing everything possible to keep their employees safe while operating vehicles.

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  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - January February 2020

    January / February 2020

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