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Marijuana Does Not Cause Reckless Driving



The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and certain
Wisconsin legislators have launched a new crusade against "drugged
driving," with a heavy emphasis on marijuana. This crusade is largely based
on scientific misinformation, and it could lead to the enactment of bad laws.

ONDCP has several slick television commercials on the subject. One shows
dramatic auto accidents and two crash test dummies passing a joint while a
serious voice says, "In a recent study, one in three reckless drivers
tested positive for marijuana." Note the careful phrasing. The idea is to
make viewers think that marijuana caused the reckless driving, without
really saying that it did.

Why would ONDCP be so coy? The answer lies in the actual data regarding
marijuana's effects on driving,

I study the effects of drugs and teach classes in the science of illicit
substances, so I know this field. The plain fact is that marijuana does not
cause reckless driving. Large studies of accidents show that drivers who
test positive for marijuana (and ONLY marijuana -- i.e., people who haven't
also been drinking or taking other intoxicating drugs) cause fewer crashes
than people who haven't had any drugs at all.

That's right, people "high" on marijuana cause fewer crashes than those who
are completely sober. The findings seemed impossible to explain. It was a
puzzle that made no sense.

A bright and talented researcher in the Netherlands named Robbe recently
solved that puzzle. He got experienced marijuana users stoned and had them
drive around the streets of Holland. But these guys were no dummies. They
drove slower, increased the distance between their cars and the cars in
front of them, and never tried to pass other cars. Folks who smoked a
placebo (a non-intoxicating substance made to look and smell like
marijuana) drove as they usually did. Alcohol, alone or in combination with
marijuana, wrecked driving completely.

Robbe's results helped explain the accident studies. People who used
marijuana and only marijuana were compensating for the drug's effects by
driving more carefully. Nobody should drive high, but we can all take a
lesson from these people who did: slow down, leave space between your car
and the next, and don't try to pass. Unlike alcohol, which makes people
behave recklessly, marijuana users tend to be aware that they are impaired
and compensate with some success.

But what about the ONDCP's claim that one in three reckless drivers tested
positive for marijuana?

It's not quite a lie, but it's deliberately misleading. The Drug Czar's no
dummy. He wants to scare people, and he knows the complete facts won't do
it. Instead he throws out scary but incomplete and misleading statistics
- -- and hopes people won't question them. Yes, one in three reckless drivers
tested positive for marijuana in a urine screen, but we don't know how many
of them had alcohol, antihistamines, cocaine, or any number of other drugs
in their systems.

Legislators need to ask for the complete facts behind the scare stories
before they start passing new laws based on misinformation.

There are cheaper, easier ways to get impaired drivers off the road.
Roadside sobriety tests are reliable, inexpensive, and valid indicators of
impaired driving. Law-enforcement officers can learn to administer these
tests quickly and easily. Unlike expensive blood tests, which can only
identify a few drugs, roadside sobriety tests can detect any kind of drug
impairment that might hurt driving. People who've had too many
antihistamines can't drive well. Roadside sobriety tests would keep them
off the road. A blood test would let them drive on by.

Don't be a dummy. Insist on roadside sobriety tests instead of expensive,
misleading blood tests.

Pubdate: Fri, 26 Sep 2003
Source: DrugSense Weekly
Section: Feature Article
Website: http://www.drugsense.org/current.htm
Author: Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D.
Note: Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at
the University of Southern California and author of "Understanding
Marijuana" (Oxford University Press, 2002).
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