Legalized Marijuana Adds New Complications to Driving Under the Influence

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It’s the holiday season and with New Year’s Eve almost upon us, reminders not to drink and drive are everywhere. We all know the dangers and alcohol has been legal for a long enough time that we all know the rules and most of us know our limits. But what about newly legalized drugs like marijuana?

Recreational marijuana usage is now legal in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia, but the laws governing the drug’s use by those who get behind the wheel varies greatly from state to state. Although every state has laws on the books to prohibit driving under the influence of drugs, what constitutes too much of the drug in your system wildly differs.

Sixteen states have a zero tolerance policy with no presence of prohibited drugs allowed in a driver’s system. Five states have specific guidelines for marijuana that allow some of the drug in your system as long as it’s below preset limits, just like blood alcohol levels.

Is it safe to drive under the influence of a drug like marijuana? The AAA Foundation for Traffic Studies conducts an annual survey of drivers over 16 and found that most people aren’t able to answer that question. Not only do they not know the laws in their own state, they’re genuinely concerned about what is truly safe.

AAA’s Traffic Safety Culture study determined that 1-in-6 people say that, in their area, people find it acceptable to drive a car an hour after using marijuana. This is far less than the amount of time that the drug can stay in your system. Government research shows that marijuana can still be detected in a user’s system for as long as three hours after use.

Driving under the influence of marijuana poses the same dangers as driving under the influence of alcohol with increased sleepiness, reduced reaction times, and decreased handling skills all increasing the chances of an accident. It’s not just alcohol and marijuana that pose a risk, but any prescription drug.

Those labels that tell you not to operate heavy equipment include your car, although most people don’t think twice about taking a prescription medication and getting behind the wheel. AAA has compiled the RoadwiseRX interactive guide to help people understand the possible affects of all drugs, both prescribed and over the counter.

There are a lot of factors to consider before getting behind the wheel. If you’re unsure, don’t take the chance. Put down the keys and find another way home so you, and the rest of us, all get where we’re going safely.