Which is Safer: Driving Drunk or Stoned?

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One of the chief arguments arising from the opposition to taxing and regulating cannabis in California comes from groups like Public Safety First, who imply an apocalypse of drugged driving is nigh. They've partnered with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to scare this message into California voter's hearts and minds. Ladies, please.

In 2008, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration stated alcohol-impaired fatalities totaled 11,773 in America, with California ranking number one in the country at 3,995 deaths. That's a World Trade Center bombing's worth of alcohol-impaired fatalities, and it happens every year in Cali. However, the phrase “marijuana-impaired fatality” or “cannabis-impaired fatality” doesn't even exist on the NHTSA web site. Surely cannabis-impaired fatalities must occur, but judging from NHTSA's own lack of data, they're a negligible concern.

Furthermore, the feds tacitly approved of driving high when they approved legal THC pill Marinol for public use.

From NHTSA literature:

“Effects on Driving: The drug manufacturer suggests that patients receiving treatment with Marinol® should be specifically warned not to drive until it is established that they are able to tolerate the drug and perform such tasks safely.”

Don't get us wrong, we'd prefer a world where none drove high, drunk, crunk, spun, mad or texting. But in the absence of highway nirvana, NHTSA studies of drunks vs. stoners showed drivers on low doses of cannabis are safer than drivers on even a little booze.

“... previous research on alcohol effects alone show that alcohol at BACs around .10 is far more impairing than low or moderate THC doses alone.”

Of course, studies show large doses of THC, or combining THC with alcohol, will definitely mess up your driving, so don't do it, especially on Interstate 5.

“Some [high] drivers may actually be able to improve performance for brief periods by overcompensating for self-perceived impairment. ... [However], marijuana may particularly impair monotonous and prolonged driving.”

Public Safety First needs to back up off the drugged driving angle. It's too easy to fact check this type of demagoguery in 2010.

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