Marijuana and DUIWhat do you think of when you hear the words DUI (driving under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated)? If you are like most people, you think about someone who drives a motor vehicle after drinking alcohol. You probably think about someone who is drunk driving. Have you ever thought about or realized that these terms DUI, DWI can also refer to driving under the influence of either prescription or illegal drugs. In fact, they can and do refer to a driver who is under the influence (impaired) by prescription or illegal drugs, as well as alcohol. An issue of ongoing concern to authorities is the person who drives a motor vehicle after using psychoactive drugs. Law enforcement officers, forensic toxicologists, attorneys, physicians and traffic safety professionals in every state in the United States have a continuing concern about this issue of drugs and driving. Documentation and assessment of the impairment displayed by the driver, ways to identify the drug impaired driver on the road, the availability of appropriate chemical tests and the interpretation of the subsequent results are some of the things these professionals are concerned about. The question may be posed, "Do drugs or medications really impair a driver? Are prescription medications as potentially dangerous as drunk driving?" The effect that medication or drugs will have on you as a driver is the primary concern with regard to drugged driving. Driving under the influence of any drug that acts on your brain can impair your motor skills, reaction time and judgment. Driving under the influence of drugs is a public health concern because it puts not only you, the driver at risk, but also your passengers and others who share the road. The drugs and prescription medications that act on your brain can alter your perception, balance, cognition, coordination, attention, reaction time and other faculties that are needed for safe driving. The effects of specific drugs of abuse differ depending on their mechanisms of action, the history of the user, the amount consumed and other factors. By far, the illegal drug that is most often used while driving or followed by driving a motor vehicle is marijuana. Marijuana is the most prevalent illegal drug that has been found in motor vehicle crash victims, impaired drivers and fatally injured drivers. The areas of your brain that marijuana affects are those that control your body's balance, movements, judgment, memory and coordination, as well as sensations. There is more research needed to understand the impact of marijuana on your ability as a driver to react to complex and unpredictable situations because the effects of this drug are multifaceted. Some things can be said about the effects of marijuana on driving. Some of these are:
- Your behavioral and cognitive skills are impaired in a dose-dependent fashion as levels of marijuana increase in your blood.
- Evidence from both real and simulated driving studies shows that marijuana can affect in a negative way your perception of time and speed, your attentiveness as a driver and your ability to draw on information obtained from past experiences.
- These impairments are significantly increased when you combine marijuana with the use of alcohol.
- Studies have indicated that many drivers who test positive for marijuana also test positive for alcohol. This is a clear indication that drinking and drugged driving are related behaviors.
- Marijuana, like other drugs and alcohol, can make it harder for you to react to sounds and signals and judge distances on the road. For example, if you have smoked marijuana you may have trouble judging how long it will take your car to slow down when you hit the brakes. You may also struggle to coordinate braking and steering.
- The effects of marijuana on your driving may last up to 24 hours. Your choice to use marijuana at a party last night may result in an accident that happens today.