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NHTSA Study: Link Between Pot, Car Crashes Weaker Than Thought

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently published the results of a study undertaken to determine whether marijuana use translates into elevated motor vehicle accident rates.

While you might question why such a study was necessary, consider that the drug is now technically legal for recreational purposes in four states and technically legal for medicinal purposes in 24 states (Tennessee excluded), meaning the chances of encountering a driver with THC in their system have increased significantly over the last few years.

The NHTSA study, hailed by one agency official as “the most closely controlled study of its kind,” examined two very different data pools. The first data pool consisted of more than 3,000 drivers from Virginia Beach who were involved in some sort of motor vehicle accident over a 20-month stretch and the second consisted of 6,000 control drivers from the same area who were not involved in any motor vehicle accidents.

Here, the researchers looked to see if these 3,000-plus drivers had any substances in their systems at the time of their respective collisions and compared these against the control group of 6,000 safe drivers.

After adjusting for gender and age, the researchers determined that when it came to alcohol, drivers with a blood alcohol content of .08 were four times more likely to crash than drivers with no alcohol in their system and that drivers with a blood alcohol content of .15 were 12 times more likely to crash than their sober counterparts.

While this may not come as a huge surprise, consider that the researchers also found that drivers with THC in their system (i.e., marijuana) were only five percent more likely to crash than sober drivers.

While these results concerning marijuana and crash rates have caught many off guard, the NHTSA has indicated that further research must be undertaken to confirm these findings and learn more about the effect of the drug on driving abilities.

Indeed, the agency is warning drivers in states where the drug is legal not to read the study as saying that driving while high is perfectly safe.

“We know from previous simulator studies that marijuana does have an effect that degrades the ability of drivers,” said one NHTSA official. “It is good to be cautious about drawing sweeping conclusions.”

It will be interesting to see not only what these future studies show, but the extent to which they inform the dialogue in state capitols about vehicle traffic laws and marijuana.

If an impaired driver has caused a serious accident that has left you or a family member with serious personal injuries, it’s important to consider consulting with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and options moving forward.

Source: USA Today, “New study shows no link between marijuana use and car accidents,” Calley Hair, Feb. 17, 2015