Drugged driving – a term commonly used when the substance used before “driving under the influence” or just DUI (of both alcohol and an addictive drug) is a drug rather than alcohol – is a major concern world over. DUI and drugged driving kill thousands of people globally every year. In the United States, although prevalence of alcohol use is associated with high morbidity due to motor vehicle crashes, many road accidents also involve drivers who test positive for cannabis and other intoxicants. Drugs like marijuana has the potential to acutely impair driving skills, leading to tragic motor vehicle accidents and harsh legal penalties.
A recent report titled “drug-impaired driving,” released by the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility revealed that the fatally injured drivers who were tested in 2015 showed more positive drug tests than the presence of alcohol. With the legalization of recreational marijuana in several American states, there has been a new safety challenge among drivers on the nation’s roads.
Pot can impair motor skills
Impaired driving is not a new issue. Incidents of road rage and fatal accidents caused due to impaired driving keep making headlines, but the numbers seem to have gone up in the recent years. While most of the campaigns to create awareness about dangers of impaired driving are centered on alcohol, not much has been done to curb the devastating effects of drugged driving.
However, marijuana is reportedly one of the most widely found illegal drugs in the blood of the drivers involved in road accidents and fatalities. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information ( NCBI ), marijuana is a common drug smoked by the age group that faces the most road traffic accidents. “In comparison, the percentage of road traffic accidents in which one driver tested positive for marijuana ranges from 6 percent to 32 percent,” observed the report.
Presence of marijuana in the blood is usually tested by measuring the level of delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), an ingredient that causes mind-altering effects. There occurs a rapid spike in THC concentration in the blood when a user smokes marijuana. However, the level declines gradually as the drug gets distributed to other tissues, including the brain. Studies have shown that the evidence of cannabis use continues to be present long after its effects have diminished, especially in people who are regular users or consume in large quantities.
Of late, the use of prescription drugs and marijuana has become increasingly prominent among teen drivers. According to the NCBI report, “peak initiation is at age 18, and ten years later, 8 percent of users are marijuana-dependent.” Factors such as increased and easy availability, widespread social tolerance, and earlier age of onset of use played an important role is currently surged marijuana use. Therefore, with legalization, experts estimate a surge in demand and supply of the drug, directly affecting the incidence of drugged driving.
It has been found that the reaction of the drug in the brain leads to traffic fatalities. For instance, marijuana tends to reduce the reaction time, decrease coordination, and impair judgment of time and distance. However, the effects become worse when the drug is mixed with alcohol.
Ensuring drug-free life
In America, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in those under 30. Drugged driving has emerged as a serious concern in the country. Therefore, it is important to create awareness on the subject, and persuade people who are increasingly turning to drugs or alcohol, to stay away from addiction and road rage.
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