“Driving after taking even small amounts of cannabis almost doubles (the) risk of a fatal road accident,” reports the French National Institute for Transport and Safety in the British Medical Journal and the BBC. As the amount of marijuana inhaled goes up, the risk also increases. While the involvement of alcohol is more significant in causing car accidents, studies prove that driving under the influence of marijuana impairs a motorist’s ability to drive, aggravates drunk driving and could cause fatalities.
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Marijuana is a mind-altering drug prepared from the cannabis plant. The dried herbal form is most commonly used. The leaves, flowers and stalks of female plants are used in this preparation. Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the major chemical ingredient or compound in marijuana that contributes to psychosis, but there are at least 66 other known compounds found in the plant, such as CBN, CBD and THCV, that produce various effects on human biology. A United Nations (UN) estimate in 2004 reports that approximately 4% of adults throughout the globe use marijuana every year. Most countries prohibit selling, using or even possessing marijuana, but while some nations like China have increased illegal-drug law enforcement, other countries like the Netherlands have relaxed it. The rationale for relaxing drug policies is that while alcohol is a more dangerous drug, especially for driving, it is legal. Prohibiting a less hazardous drug like marijuana is inconsistent, thus, prosecution of illegal drug users in countries like the Netherlands is more lenient.
In the US, at least one out of every six High School seniors drives after smoking pot or marijuana. 600,000 of these students drive under the influence of cannabis and 38,000 have reported accidents after using the illegal drug, according to government surveys. Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and the Liberty Mutual Insurance company also conducted a survey concluding that 41% of teenagers were not concerned about the consequences if they drove after using drugs.
Indeed, marijuana can impair a person’s motor skills and alertness just like alcohol. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that drivers under the influence of cannabis exhibit the same impairments of drunk drivers. Their balance, concentration, alertness, memory and coordination diminish. THC is responsible for this, and at least 60 experiments have proven a person's ability to drive decreases as the THC level increases (Berghaus 403). The experiments include driving simulations, on-road experiments and laboratory tests that prove the impairment of cognitive and behavioral skills that are needed for driving.
Marijuana also impairs a person’s judgment and reaction time just like alcohol. A study conducted in 2001 by the United Kingdom Transit Research Laboratory observed that people driving under the influence of marijuana wiggled off-center from their lanes or turned either too close to the curb or too wide. It took them longer to make decisions; thus, their reflexes or response times were slower than what is deemed to be safe. But being aware of their disability, they increased their following distance and drove more slowly. The Office of National Drug Control Policy also reports that cannabis makes it difficult for drivers to judge distances and respond to sounds, signals and signs on the road. For example, a drugged driver will experience difficulty in judging the time it takes for an automobile to slow down after hitting the brakes, and it will be harder for them to coordinate braking and steering.
The effects of smoking pot can also last for up to 24 hours, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Just because a motorist has not used cannabis an hour or two ago does not mean that it is safe for him or her to drive. If it was smoked in a party the evening before the motorist decides to drive, it will still have the same impairing effects on the driver.
Furthermore, drug users often combine pot with alcohol, leading to more severe driver impairment. The Drug and Alcohol Review reports that combining marijuana and alcohol has a multiplicative or additive effect on driving performance. It makes driving worse than being under the influence of either drug alone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also asserts that the combined use of both alcohol and marijuana is more hazardous. Drivers who test positive for THC also have positive alcohol results, indicating a link between the two behaviors.
Indeed, pot users who drive have caused many fatal accidents. 15 percent of those involved in automobile accidents, smoked marijuana prior to their collisions, according to a study in a hospital trauma unit. An additional 17 percent of those hospitalized used both cannabis and alcohol prior to driving (Soderstrom 131). Another study observed that one third of reckless drivers smoked marijuana prior to driving, and an additional 12 percent of reckless motorists used both cannabis and cocaine (Brookoff 518). The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also reports that the University of Auckland in New Zealand also proved that the influence of cannabis affects car accidents. Marijuana users were found to be almost ten times more like to drive recklessly and be involved in accidents. 5.6% of those who actually crashed their cars actually took the drug. The Shock Trauma Center of the University of Maryland also observed over a three-month period that about half of the patients admitted to the unit were drug users (not including alcohol), and 25% tested positive for cannabis, as the DEA reports.
There are many actual stories that narrate the link between cannabis and automotive accidents. The DEA lists some of these stories. For example, The Commercial Appeal reports that in April 2002, Wesley Hudson, a 27-year-old van driver for Tippy Toes Learning Academy, a child care center, lost control of his vehicle like a drunk driver, carrying six children, while driving on a freeway and crashed into the concrete base of an overpass. The driver and four children eventually died, and the other two were seriously wounded. Investigators found 1.9 grams of marijuana stashed in his pocket at the scene of the accident. He tested positive for THC but negative for alcohol or any other drug, including legal prescription drugs. Later, they found out that he smoked cannabis regularly. In fact, the school children called him “Smokey.” This clearly indicates that marijuana was solely responsible for the accident.
As the Chicago Tribune reports, another pot-smoking driver, headed for a Mississippi casino, crashed his bus carrying elderly passengers during Mother's Day. Frank Bedell, a 46-year-old driver of Custom Bus Charters, was headed for Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis when suddenly, he loses control of his bus, again like a drunk driver, veering from the left lane to the right lane and crashing into an embankment in New Orleans, Louisiana. 22 people died and Bedell tested positive for cannabis when he was sent to the hospital. Investigators later found out that he tested positive for THC four times in a seven-year period when he worked for other bus companies and was fired. He was sent to rehab after testing positive, but it did not seem to work since he tested positive again later. He was eventually fired and hired by another bus company until he tested positive again. He was fired again but was hired by Custom Bus Charters which eventually led to the road accident.
And in Australia, a man who smoked marijuana about an hour before he drove caused a car crash that killed seven people. Max Purdue, a 38-year-old man drove his sedan through an intersection that crashed into a van, carrying the Millards, a couple from Western Victoria. Purdue was driving with his 37-year-old friend, and his two children, aged eight and seven. Purdue’s son also had a girlfriend, aged 17, who was with them. They all died in the car accident. The physicians who tested Purdue later found out that he had very high amounts of THC in his blood, an amount that they had not seen for at least 15 years. The orphaned son of the Millards later said, “I'd just like for the message to get across that drugs and driving is very, very dangerous...If that wasn't involved, this tragedy wouldn't have happened."
Without any doubt, marijuana and driving is truly very dangerous. Tragedies, indeed, do not have to happen. Drugs kill, especially when it is mixed with driving.
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