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Driving While Drugged… Safer than You Thought?

Driving While Drugged is taking on increasing importance, especially as the incidence of Driving While Impaired has declined dramatically over the past 30 years. Local agencies in Raleigh have been training increasing numbers of Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) whose job it is to come to a scene and use various observational skills to identify whether the suspect is, in fact, impaired as the result of a drug (as opposed to alcohol).

There is an assumption that all impairment, however, is equally dangerous. A recent study shows that marijuana use may actually improve highway safety relative to alcohol use:

According to research published in November by the Institute for the Study of Labor, a German think tank, medical marijuana laws in the United States have been associated with a 9 percent decline in traffic fatalities. That result is based on data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System for 13 states that legalized medical use of cannabis between 1990 and 2009. The study’s authors, Montana State University economist D. Mark Anderson and University of Colorado at Denver economist Daniel Rees, argue that the most plausible explanation is the substitution of marijuana for alcohol, since laboratory research indicates that smoking pot impairs driving ability substantially less than drinking does.

Impaired driving is never a good idea. However, drivers impaired on marijuana may actually be safer than drivers impaired on alcohol, which is not a recommendation that people smoke pot before driving, but a recognition that different drugs affect the body differently.

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