Driving high: you may take a hit

Through driver’s education classes, mock crashes and organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, we have all heard about the many dangers of drinking alcohol and driving.

But what about the effects of marijuana on one’s ability to drive?

According to the BBC, drivers who use marijuana up to three hours before driving are twice as likely to be in a car collision as those who are not under the influence.

The BBC reports that, “Cannabis impairs brain and motor functions needed for safe driving.”

While there is much media coverage and discussion about the dangerous effects of alcohol consumption before driving, there is less hype around the actual effects of marijuana and driving.

A Canadian study done by researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax looked at “observational studies of collisions between one or more moving vehicles on a public road which involved the consumption of cannabis.”

The study found a “near doubling of risk of a driver being involved in a motor vehicle collision resulting in serious injury or death if cannabis had been consumed less than three hours before.”

Director of Student Health Helen Rice was not surprised by the statistics.

“A person may not be able to react to a situation as quickly as they could if they were not impaired,” said Rice in an email interview. “People think they can smoke just a little and relax. They do not perceive marijuana (to be) as dangerous as drinking, and many do not want to believe a little could do any harm.”

Third-year Emily Egan understands the possibly dangerous side effects of marijuana but does not feel it is dangerous to her driving abilities.

“The study makes sense because weed does impair your reaction time,” said Egan. “From my experience, however, I drive slower and am more calm after smoking, so personally, I think that weed doesn’t affect driving. In my case, it makes me safer because I drive slower and am not aggressive.”

Third-year Noah Swanson also becomes a slower driver after marijuana use, but finds that it does affect his ability to concentrate.

“Whenever I drive high, I always drive really slow but I get kind of paranoid about all the other cars around me,” Swanson said. “I feel like I try to pay attention to everything all at once and it doesn’t work.”

Swanson thinks marijuana might negatively affect one’s driving abilities, but that it is still not as dangerous as consuming alcohol before driving.

“Sometimes I have friends who drive high and drive like crazy people,” said Swanson. “I usually don’t even like to drive at all when I’m high, but it’s not half as dangerous as driving even a little drunk.”

A first-year, who wishes to remain anonymous, thinks that the effects of marijuana depend on different circumstances.

“I think how harmful pot is for a driver is going to vary from person to person,” said the first-year. “Weed doesn’t personally affect my driving skills, but I have friends that are terrible high drivers. I think it really just depends on the individual and other factors, like their driving abilities in general, and how weed affects them.”

A senior, who wished to remain anonymous, believes that staying sober to drive is the best option.

“Driving impaired on any substance is something to avoid, whether alcohol, marijuana, or prescription drugs,” said the senior. “I’ve been in the car with high drivers and I’ve also been in the car with someone who’s been drinking, and high drivers are a lot more cautious. I’ve noticed that people who are too high to drive tend to be more reluctant to drive, whereas people who have had too much to drink tend to downplay their drunkenness.”

Rice hopes that there will be more education about the overall effects of marijuana use in the future.

“More advertising and education programs would be helpful in educating children and young adults on the effects of marijuana in every aspect of their lives,” Rice said. “I believe it would be helpful for young adults to see simulations of high people driving the same way as they see drunk people driving … Marijuana is widely seen on campus so more education would be helpful.”