Does Driving High Make You a Better Driver?

Believe it or not, we often have young people who smoke marijuana tell us that they actually drive better when they are high. They often claim that because they know they are high they are more cautious because they don’t want to be pulled over, or they will say that they get more paranoid, so they are more diligent about following all the traffic rules. However, a new study is finding that regardless of how these young people feel, the exact opposite is proving to be true. Car crashes and deaths are actually on the rise in states that have legalized recreational marijuana a new study finds.

“Marijuana, like alcohol and just about every other drug, changes how you feel and how you behave. That’s the purpose of a drug. And that changes how you drive. We all need to realize that driving after using marijuana is a bad idea,” said lead researcher Charles Farmer, vice president for research and statistical services at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

His team found that after marijuana legalization, the rate of car crashes with injuries increased by nearly 6%, while fatal crashes rose by 4%. No increase in these crashes was seen in states that hadn’t legalized marijuana, the researchers noted.

These results are consistent with prior studies, Farmer said. “It’s becoming more and more clear that the legalization of marijuana doesn’t come without cost. But marijuana legalization is still a novelty, and there’s hope that these early trends can be turned around,” he added.

The Study

For the study, Farmer and his colleagues looked at five states that legalized recreational marijuana for people 21 and older (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada) and compared them with states that did not legalize pot (Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming).

They found that after legalization, but before retail pot sales started, the rate of car crashes with injuries jumped nearly 7%. After sales began, the crash rate dipped slightly (less than 1%), but the rate of fatal crashes shot up about 2% before and after retail sales began.

So, what about the young people who feel like they are more diligent and follow the speed limits when they are high? Well, the study found that drivers under the influence of marijuana do have a tendency to drive more slowly, the researchers noted. They may not be able to avoid a crash, but their lower speed may make the collision less deadly, Farmer noted. So, does driving while high make you a safer driver? This trend in car accidents points to a resounding “no.” As always, the best thing we can do is to have open and honest conversations with the young people in our lives about these harsh topics.