Even with the possibility of legalizing recreational use of marijuana in California, the latest bill introduced by Republican Senator Bob Huff could be a bit of an issue for those who enjoy a “burn cruise” now and again. Or anyone, ever, who might decide to take a toke before leaving the house to go anywhere at all (and let’s face it, we all know people who do it!).
“Drugged driving is quickly becoming a serious public health and safety problem that is under-reported, under-enforced and under-recognized,” wrote Senator Huff in a press release. “We lack the same kind of deterrents for drugged driving as we do for drunk driving, yet highway safety hazards and fatalities are increasing with widespread prescription and illicit drug abuse across all demographics.”
The proposed bill would allow law enforcement to use a handheld device that uses an oral swab to detect marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and opiates if they suspect that someone is driving under the influence of drugs. While the idea of keeping extremely drugged out people from driving is wonderful, the way they are talking about testing for these drugs is not the best option – at least not for all of the mentioned substances.
As far as the device described in the bill, there is no mention of what type of oral swab test is being conducted and, more importantly, it doesn’t describe how recently a person must have done a specific drug for it to be detected by the device. Beyond the substances that it can detect, there is no more information available and saliva testing is already not the most reliable form of drug test.
“Oral swab testing is still an unproven technology,” he (Dale Gieringer of NORML) observed. “Its accuracy has not been demonstrated in controlled, published scientific studies. There’s no evidence that oral swab testing results have any correlation to impaired driving.”
Now, there are a lot of different things to consider here – for one, there is a breathalyzer being created specifically to detect cannabis, which might be a better option for that particular substance, considering how difficult it is to determine how impaired someone might be from the use of THC.
Chances are with all of the drugs listed for the oral swab detection, they will likely stay in your system for at least a short time after the effects of the drug have worn off – which means a saliva test might not be a fair way to test for impairment of any drug.
More information on how this saliva test will be conducted, how it detects the drugs and how accurately it can read current levels of intoxication are crucial things to know before using it on the public. While there is a definite need for being able to tell who is driving recklessly because of drugs (or, who is just driving recklessly and isn’t on drugs), it doesn’t seem that this proposed bill was ready for action when it was submitted.
Why does most everyone jump to the automatic, knee-jerk, and FALSE assumption that cannabis impairs drivers much the same as does alcohol? Why let uninformed opinions be the basis of new laws? It took me very little time to do a search, and find actual scientific studies which indicate just how incorrect such an assumption is. Examples follow.
Studies Show Marijuana Consumption Not Associated With Dangerous Driving, May Lead to Safer Drivers
Anyone who consumes cannabis on a regular basis knows that it doesn’t make you a dangerous driver. Many people find that it makes them a safer, more focused driver; one that’s more aware of their surroundings and the dangers associated with controlling tons of gasoline-filled metal. Not only has this been an anecdotal truth for as long as cars and cannabis have been paired, science has also been clear that consuming marijuana doesn’t make you a dangerous driver, and may make some people safer drivers. More research is needed, but it’s hard to deny that of the research we have, marijuana hasn’t been found to increase a person’s risk of an accident. To back this claim up, here’s a list of studies and research conducted on this very topic, some of which were funded by national governments in hopes of different results.
Marijuana and Driving: A Review of the Scientific Evidence
“Marijuana has a measurable yet relatively mild effect on psychomotor skills, yet it does not appear to play a significant role in vehicle crashes, particularly when compared to alcohol. Below is a summary of some of the existing data.”
The incidence and role of drugs in fatally injured drivers
“There was no indication that cannabis by itself was a cause of fatal crashes.”
REFERENCE: Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
Report No. DOT HS 808 065, K. Terhune. 1992.
Marijuana’s effects on actual driving performance
“Evidence from the present and previous studies strongly suggests that alcohol encourages risky driving whereas THC encourages greater caution. .. Drivers under the influence of marijuana retain insight in their performance and will compensate when they can, for example, by slowing down or increasing effort. As a consequence, THC’s adverse effects on driving performance appear relatively small.”
REFERENCE: University of Adelaide study, 1995
Role of cannabis in motor vehicle crashes
“There is no evidence that consumption of cannabis alone increases the risk of culpability for traffic crash fatalities or injuries for which hospitalization occurs, and may reduce those risks.. The more cautious behavior of subjects who have received marijuana decreases the impact of the drug on performance, whereas the opposite holds true for alcohol.”
REFERENCE: Marijuana: On-Road and Driving-Simulator Studies; Epidemiologic Reviews 21: 222-232, A. Smiley. 1999.
“Both simulation and road trials generally find that driving behaviour shortly after consumption of larger doses of cannabis results in (i) a more cautious driving style; (ii) increased variability in lane position (and headway); and (iii) longer decision times. Whereas these results indicate a ‘change’ from normal conditions, they do not necessarily reflect ‘impairment’ in terms of performance effectiveness since few studies report increased accident risk.”
REFERENCE: UK Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (Road Safety Division). 2000.
Cannabis And Cannabinoids – Pharmacology, Toxicology And Therapy
“At the present time, the evidence to suggest an involvement of cannabis in road crashes is scientifically unproven”.
REFERENCE: G. Chesher and M. Longo. 2002.
Cannabis: Our position for a Canadian Public Policy
“Cannabis alone, particularly in low doses, has little effect on the skills involved in automobile driving. Cannabis leads to a more cautious style of driving. However it has a negative impact on decision time and trajectory. This in itself does not mean that drivers under the influence of cannabis represent a traffic safety risk”
REFERENCE: Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs. 2002.
“The evidence to suggest an involvement of cannabis in road crashes is scientifically unproven.”
REFERENCE: Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutic Potential, 2002
Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutic Potential, edited by Franjo Grotenhermen, MD and Ethan Russo, MD (Haworth Press 2002).
The Prevalence of Drug Use in Drivers, and Characteristics of the Drug-Positive Group
“There was a clear relationship between alcohol and culpability. In contrast, there was no significant increase in culpability for cannabinoids alone.”
REFERENCE: Accident Analysis and Prevention 32(5): 613-622. Longo, MC; Hunter, CE; Lokan, RJ; White, JM; and White, MA. (2000a).
In a 2008 case study published by the International Association for Cannabis as Medicine that explored the potential for THC to have positive effects on attention-deficit disorder, the report’s authors concluded that cannabis use could mitigate problems with inattention and lead to “enhanced driving related performance.”
The Effect Of Cannabis Compared With Alcohol On Driving
“Although cognitive studies suggest that cannabis use may lead to unsafe driving, experimental studies have suggested that it can have the opposite effect.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2009
Why Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Traffic Deaths
“No differences were found during the baseline driving segment (and the) collision avoidance scenarios,”
REFERENCE: Research published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 2010
Top 10 Reasons Marijuana Users Are Safer Drivers
“20 years of study has concluded that marijuana smokers may actually have fewer accidents than other drivers.”
Risk of severe driver injury by driving with psychoactive substances
“The study found that those with a blood alcohol level of 0.12% were over 30 times more likely to get into a serious accident than someone who’s consumed any amount of cannabis. .. The least risky drug seemed to be cannabis and benzodiazepines and Z-drugs.”
REFERENCE: Accident Analysis & Prevention; Volume 59, October 2013, Pages 346–356
Cannabis: Summary Report
“Cannabis alone, particularly in low doses, has little effect on the skills involved in automobile driving.”
REFERENCE: Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Acute cannabis consumption and motor vehicle collision risk
“There is no evidence that consumption of cannabis alone increases the risk of culpability for traffic crash fatalities or injuries for which hospitalization occurs, and may reduce those risks.”
REFERENCE: British Medical Journal, 1999; M. Bates and T. Blakely
Marijuana-DUI Case Tossed by Arizona Supreme Court in Metabolite Ruling
“Because the legislature intended to prevent impaired driving, we hold that the ‘metabolite’ reference in [the law] is limited to any of a proscribed substance’s metabolites that are capable of causing impairment . . . Drivers cannot be convicted of the . . . offense based merely on the presence of a non-impairing metabolite that may reflect the prior usage of marijuana.”
Landmark Study Finds Marijuana Is Not Linked to Car Crashes
Stoned drivers are a lot safer than drunk ones, new federal data show
“Stick all *that* in your pipe and smoke it!”
Update: In “Preventing Drugged Driving Must Become a National Priority Equivalent to Preventing Drunk Driving,” 2015 National Drug Control Strategy ended up admitting that “The study found that marijuana users are more likely to be involved in accidents, but that the increased risk may be due in part because marijuana users are more likely to be in high-risk groups for becoming involved in crashes (e.g., young males).”
Update 2: “Study: Driving Stoned Won’t Make You Much More Likely to Crash”
A new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says smoking pot does not have a significant effect on a person’s ability to drive.
Researchers in Norway say past studies about THC-positive drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents have failed to adequately control for other variables. In other words, authors have been quick to jump on cannabis as the cause – even when it may not have been. The researchers, who are set to publish their findings in the journal Addiction, reviewed more than 20 driving culpability studies and two meta-analyses published between 1982 and 2015. They adjusted the numbers and found “acute cannabis intoxication” increased crash risk only moderately – by about 20 to 40 percent, or an “odds ratio” of between 1.2 and 1.4.
By comparison, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that driving with legal amounts of alcohol in one’s system increases crash risk almost fourfold (an odds ratio of 3.93). Fun fact: Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a federal agency, acknowledges it’s “difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.”