Study: Americans Believe Phones Are Deadlier than Marijuana Behind the Wheel

By: Ryan Gallagher December 18, 2017
A recent Harris poll found attitudes about the dangers of driving stoned vary significantly between the younger and older generations.
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The perception of weed is changing in the United States. When polled, young American drivers said being high on marijuana while driving is safer than using a cell phone and driving.

A Harris Poll released on November 28 asked 2,000 adults which acts were most dangerous behind the wheel. Nine in 10 people considered alcohol, opioids, texting, and using social media to be dangerous while driving, while just seven in 10 considered smoking weed to be dangerous, according to the study, which was funded by the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCIAA).

Young adults (age 18-34) said driving high was less dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol, while the results flipped for older individuals (age 35-54).

PCIAA officials who funded the study did not agree with the young respondents' perception that weed is less dangerous behind the wheel.

“Driving under the influence of marijuana is extremely dangerous,” said Robert Gordon, PCIAA vice president. “In fact, driving under the influence of marijuana should be viewed with the same risks as drunk or distracted driving. When you’re high, it can impair your judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time.”

Drunk driving has been widely studied, and statistics about the behavior are readily accessible. For example, 29 people die every day at the hands of drunk drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

And when it comes to cell phones and distracted driving, the numbers aren’t far off. In 2015, 3,477 people died at the hands of distracted drivers—equating to about nine people daily, according to the NHTSA.

However, much less is known about the effects of marijuana while driving.

For now, drivers should know that driving high is illegal. However, the discrepancy comes when marijuana users ask, "How much is too much?"

In Colorado, where recreational marijuana use has been legal since 2014, more than 5 nanograms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) detected in a driver’s bloodstream is considered too high to drive. However, police officers are told to base arrests on observed impairment because a THC breathalyzer doesn't exist (yet). For now, police officers can only measure THC levels through blood draws, which frequently require a trip to the hospital.

While most state laws regarding marijuana and driving remain in legal limbo, Colorado has been the one to watch. Since the state legalized weed, there has been a spike in the number of drivers with THC in their system, but a flat growth rate of traffic fatalities.

“We need more research, public awareness, and better public policy to reduce the dangers of marijuana-impaired driving and to make our roads less dangerous,” Gordon said.

Regardless of your cell phone, alcohol, or drug habits, none of them should carry over to the American roadway—paying attention and driving sober are always safe bets.

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