Against Drugged Driving
jill cooper nytimes.com
The National Institutes of Health has reported that, over the past four years, there has been an increase in teen use of marijuana, as use of alcohol, cigarettes and other drugs has decreased. Contrary to much public perception, marijuana is a serious public health threat facing this age group. It is associated with difficulty in focusing and paying attention and in performing cognitive tests.
We should not feel that teens are safer stoned than drunk, especially if they get behind the wheel.
Aside from the overall health threats of increased marijuana use, from the standpoint of traffic safety alone, this is a dangerous portent. The chemicals in marijuana have been proven to interfere with key driving skills: attentiveness, visual scanning, orientation ability and basic motor skills, as well as perception of time and speed. While claims have been made that marijuana use could make people safer drivers since they tend to drive more slowly while under its influence, the alleged safety benefits are speculative, at best.
Currently, data on marijuana use while driving has been hard to collect for a number of reasons, including the difficulty in conducting drugged driving assessments, and substantiating drug impairment in court. This is being resolved through improved police training on assessing impairment, as well as new research on the prevalence of drugged driving.
It is important that the news about rising marijuana use and falling alcohol use among teens does not obscure the fact that alcohol continues to be a very real threat to teen drivers. Teens are at greater risk of dying in an alcohol-related crash than other age groups, and they have a greater crash risk than adult drunk drivers when they do drink and drive. After alcohol, cannabis is the drug most frequently found in the system of drivers in crashes.
We should not feel that teens are safer stoned than drunk. Why would we want anyone with diminished skills, either as a result of cannabis use or alcohol use, operating a machine made of two tons of steel?