Driving While High
In most developed countries drug-impaired driving is on the rise, particularly among younger drivers who are twice as likely to drive after smoking pot as they are after drinking. In fact, cannabis use by teens in Canada is the highest per capita in the world… 28% admitted smoking pot in the last year… and they are shockingly more likely to drive under the influence. One in 10 admitted to driving while high.
The following are facts associated with driving while high. We intentionally left out a bunch of statistics and just cut to the chase so you'll be more informed and make better choices. At the end of this article are links to resources we used. Visit them if you wish to dig a little deeper.
Some believe marijuana makes you a better driver, that it’s safe to drive high if you have a tolerance, because you’re more cautious. Research concludes this may be true for the first few minutes of driving, with extra alertness due to adrenalin, but marijuana users can soon become bored or distracted, then attention drifts.
Driving While High Is Becoming Common
Research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates when drivers are killed in motor vehicle crashes, drugs and alcohol are involved about 11% of the time. The report also shows an increase in the number of drivers who tested positive for marijuana, with one in four having THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana) in their system… that’s 25% of drivers! This rise is attributed to recent legalization and popularization of medical and recreational cannabis in many US states… and Canada is next!
Chance of an Accident Increases If You Drive High
Impaired driving is the leading cause of motor vehicle accident injury and death in North America. In Canada, there is a drug-impaired driving offence every 3 hours. Studies note that the highest-risk group for car accidents is most likely to use marijuana, notably young men in their late teens and 20’s.
Smoking weed affects concentration and spatial perception which may lead to poor speed control, drowsiness, distraction, and the inability to read road signs accurately. Studies show drugged drivers have slower reaction times, swerving or tailgating more often, making them a higher risk for accidents. A split-second decision may mean the difference between life and death. Any time the skills needed to drive safely are impaired, even slightly, the chances of having an accident increase.
More than one research study found a direct link between THC concentration in the blood and impaired driving skills. Those involved in vehicle crashes with THC in their blood, particularly higher levels, are three to seven times more likely to be responsible for the incident than drivers who have not used drugs or alcohol. It is estimated that the risk of an accident resulting in serious injury or death doubles after marijuana use.
However, the role of marijuana in these accidents is not always clear, because it can be detected in body fluids days or even weeks after initial intoxication, and because it’s often combined with alcohol.
What are the Dangers of Mixing Marijuana & Alcohol?
One study showed when subjects were given low doses of marijuana and tested in normal traffic there was moderate impairment, but when combined with even a low dose of alcohol (common at parties) driving performance was severely affected.
Research shows when marijuana use is combined with alcohol, the risk of an accident is significantly greater. The effect on driving skills is not added… it’s multiplied!
What are Your Personal Risks When Driving High?
- increased risk of being involved in a car accident
- hurting or killing yourself, someone you care about, or innocent strangers
- getting arrested, paying a substantial fine & facing license suspension
- being convicted & getting a criminal record
Some reports show that people who drive within 1 hour of using marijuana may be twice as likely to get into a car accident compared to those who don’t partake.
How Do I Know If I’m Impaired?
Most studies show using marijuana impairs your cognitive thinking ability and short-term memory. Unlike alcohol, people metabolize THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana) levels at different rates, so impairment varies widely from person to person. That's why you'll never see a chart telling you how many joints or brownies you can have before getting behind the wheel.
Signs of marijuana impairment include:
- red or bloodshot eyes
- delayed reaction time
- distorted sense of surroundings
- poor coordination
- feeling anxious or panicky
- feeling dizzy or tired
What Should I Do if I’m Impaired?
Don’t get behind the wheel. If somebody you know is impaired, refuse to drive with them. Find something to do until the high wears off or seek alternative forms of transportation.
How Long Should I Wait Before Driving?
Many drivers have admitted to driving just 1 hour after using marijuana or were passengers in a vehicle driven by someone who had consumed it. It is recommended not to drive at least 4 hours after inhalation, 6 hours after oral ingestion and up to 8 hours if you experience a sense of “euphoria” or “high” after inhaling or ingesting marijuana.
Police use roadside behavioral testing for marijuana use. They look for signs of distracted driving, light body tremors, different sized pupils, impaired motor skills and the smell of marijuana in the vehicle.
What Happens When You are Pulled Over?
There is currently no “breathalyzer” type test for marijuana as there is for alcohol. However, if police suspect you are high, you may be asked to do a standardized sobriety test on site or at the police station. These tests usually consist of an evaluation of your eyes (red or dilated) and coordination challenges. Police can also request drug testing.
- Urine tests can pick up traces of THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana) several days or more after smoking marijuana, and for heavy users, traces may even be found weeks after they have stopped using it. The cut-off for urine tests is 50 ng/mL.
- Blood tests may be requested in the case of a roadside accident or to check for intoxication. A positive test can show up just a few hours after using marijuana, and regular users may test positive even a day or two later. In fact, traces of THC can be detected by standard blood tests for up to 7 days in heavy users.
- Saliva tests are currently being developed as a roadside test for marijuana use. They can detect whether marijuana was used within 24 hours. This is because the linings of the mouth absorb THC and release it into the saliva after marijuana use. The time resolution of 12-24 hours is much better than that of urine or blood tests.
When drivers are involved in auto accidents, the driver with THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana) in their blood are more likely to be charged for the accident compared to the driver who was not using drugs or alcohol. It’s particularly true when THC is found at higher levels.
In April 2017, the Government of Canada revised their impaired driving laws to include stronger legislation and more severe punishment to those who drive under the influence of drugs, including marijuana.
Canada’s new regulations are gauged according to THC levels per milliliter (mL) of blood:
- 2-5 ng/mL within 2 hours of driving could have a maximum fine of up to $1000
- 5 ng/mL or more within 2 hours of driving would be considered an offence and you could be prosecuted
- a combination of more than 2.5 ng/mL of THC and 50 mg/100mL of blood alcohol within 2 hours of driving would be a chargeable offence.
You could face life in prison if someone is injured or killed as a result of your impairment.
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