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How does marijuana use affect driving ability?

While the dangers associated with drinking and driving are well documented and have been for some time, Alaska and several other states’ relatively recent legalization of recreational marijuana is raising new questions. Just how much does the use of marijuana impact one’s ability to drive, for example, and how much does that person's decision to use before getting behind the wheel endanger you and everyone else on the roadway?

While more research is necessary to answer these and related questions effectively, there is little question surrounding whether marijuana impacts your ability to drive safely, at least to some degree. Here is how:

Marijuana’s impact on the brain

When smoked or ingested, marijuana affects reaction time and motor coordination, and it can also hinder judgment – all of which are necessary to drive safely and properly follow the rules of the road. When drivers have poor reaction times because of marijuana usage, they become that much less likely to be able to stop for sudden obstructions, other vehicles that brake unexpectedly and so on. A lack of motor coordination can impact a driver’s ability to react promptly and appropriately to hazards that arise while driving, and poor judgment, too, can increase the chance of an auto accident and endanger everyone on the road.

Study results

According to two large studies, drivers who use marijuana before getting behind the wheel are about twice as likely as those who have not used drugs or alcohol to find themselves involved in a fatal car crash. Furthermore, of those involved in car accidents where marijuana use was a factor, those with marijuana within their systems were between three and seven times more likely to have been the primary cause of the accident.

While there is little question as to whether marijuana impedes the ability to drive safely, additional research is necessary to determine just how much it impacts drivers and endangers the public.

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