High driving turns out to be a lot more common than you might think.
A driver is questioned at a LAPD police DUI checkpoint in Reseda, Los Angeles, California on April 13, 2018. (Photo by Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images)
A recent study conducted in Massachusetts finds that one in every five adults use cannabis and roughly one in every three of these adults admits to driving high.
This study was released late last month by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. It adds another layer to the current national discussion around the potential dangers of driving high.
The results of this latest study match closely with previous findings of cannabis use behind the wheel.
Last year, a survey of nearly 3,000 teenagers by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) also found that roughly one-in-three respondents thought driving high was legal in states where cannabis was too.
In Massachusetts, roughly seven percent of the adult population drove high within the past month.
However, the social and health ramifications of this finding are less clear. While driving high may call to mind the widespread devastation caused by drunk-driving, a number of studies have found that driving under the influence of cannabis might not pose much of a risk at all.
One 2015 study from the University of Iowa, for example, found that the impairment of driving high was comparable to that of drivers who have consumed the legal quantity of alcohol before getting behind the wheel.
As far back as 1993, researchers have been making similar findings.
The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) conducted a review of the scientific evidence in this area. NORML determined that “to date, the result of this research is fairly consistent: 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.”
Of course, other organizations—especially those who hold cannabis in a less-favorable light—claim that research tells the opposite, stating that being under the influence of cannabis can dangerously impair drivers.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), for example, did their own round-up of the available research on driving high.
NIDA concluded that “Marijuana significantly impairs judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time, and studies have found a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability.”
But even if we assume that driving high dangerously impaired drivers, the recent Massachusetts study reads that “tools to reliably ascertain levels of marijuana exposure and impairment in the field do not currently exist.”
In other words, there’s no roadside test for cannabis use equivalent to an alcohol breathalyzer.
Until new technology develops, drivers in Massachusetts may have to accept that high drivers are in roughly one out of every 14 cars.