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Are high drivers as dangerous as drunk drivers?

If a person smokes a joint then gets in his car to make a quick run through a McDonald's drive-through, is he putting other drivers in danger? Or is driving while under the influence of marijuana safe compared to drunk driving? This is what officials in places like Colorado, where some level of marijuana use is legal, are trying to figure out. 

So far, studies seem to indicate that driving while high on marijuana is safer than drunk driving, but still not as safe as sober driving. 

In 2012, Psychopharmacology published a study about the performance of people under the influence of marijuana on field sobriety tests normally conducted on drunk drivers. Seventy percent of participants passed the test. Interestingly, the study found that people who use marijuana regularly performed better than those who use it rarely use it or had used it for the first time. 

Crash experts, however, say that marijuana can still be a risk for drivers and others on the road. Stoned drivers, they say, just have different deficits than drunk drivers. Drunk drivers tend to go faster, thinking they're capable of getting to their destination safely. High drivers, on the other hand, are more calculated in their actions, driving slower but also taking longer to make decisions about unexpected events. 

Many studies have come up with the estimate that a driver who is high on THC, the active ingredient in pot, is twice as likely to be involved in a car accident. While researchers continue to determine exactly how dangerous driving while under the influence of marijuana is, hopefully drivers in Colorado will choose to play it safe and drive sober. 

Source: The New York Times, "Driving Under the Influence, of Marijuana," Maggie Koerth-Baker, Feb. 17, 2014

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