Until 2015, drug driving was the ‘safe’ option by some motorists. That doesn’t mean they necessarily thought they were in a fit state to get behind the wheel, it just means that perhaps thought they wouldn’t get caught.
While the dangers and consequences of drink-driving have been well-publicised, drug driving was clouded by complicated laws and difficulties for police testing at the roadside. Making it difficult to detect when a driver was under the influence and easier to get away with.
Research conducted by road-safety group THINK! revealed that around 20 per cent of people know someone who has driven after taking illegal drugs.
Of those who admitted to driving under the influence of illegal drugs, 55 per cent said they did so because they felt safe to drive as it gave them a false sense of confidence.
In 2015, new laws were put into place, and there are now strict “zero tolerance” rules around drug driving and technology to catch the motorists at the roadside. In fact, even the smallest amount of narcotic consumption could result in a positive roadside test and a driving ban, along with a fine and criminal record.
Since these new laws came into effect, an average of four UK motorists every day are found guilty of driving under the influence of drugs, and drivers are now as likely to be found guilty as those who drink and drive.
But it’s not just the ‘recreational’ (and illegal) narcotics which can cause drivers issues. Prescription medication can also restrict your ability to drive, and it is crucial to know what the legal limits are and how soon you can get behind the wheel after taking them.
For illegal drugs, the rules are simple. If you have taken drugs, you shouldn’t drive. Unlike the guidelines for alcohol which suggest safe limits for driving, the government guidelines only allow for the merest trace. Even after a few days you may still have traces of the drug in your system which could be detected by a roadside saliva test.
To help with detection, police use ‘drugalyser’ kits, which take a sample of saliva to test for common recreational drugs such as cannabis and cocaine at the roadside. The check takes around 10 minutes to deliver a result, and a positive test will end in your arrest and a further blood sample being taken at a Police station.
Since the new laws were introduced, they can also run blood tests at police stations for drugs such as ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and heroin without having to gather evidence that the driver seemed to have impaired driving ability, as was previously required.
The results of those blood tests will decide if you will be charged. Apart from very small amounts, which are deemed as ‘accidental exposure’ (such as passively breathing in cannabis smoke in a room at a party, for example) you are likely to fall foul of the law.
Even these small amounts are likely to attract questions from the police, regardless of the quantities involved, as they are simply illegal.
The question of ‘legal’, medicinal drugs is more complicated. Many prescription medications can leave you unfit to drive, and the best advice is to seek the guidance of your doctor, pharmacist and to read the packaging carefully before taking them to see if they will affect your ability to drive. If you fail to do so and get caught or have an accident, don’t expect the law to be on your side.
The government does publish the legal levels for ‘medicinal’ drug driving limits (below), but there is no way of a driver knowing what these levels mean. It is impossible to provide a rule of thumb for what dosage equates to the threshold levels as it differs from person to person and is affected by variables such as diet, water intake and exercise.
As always, the rule is that if you are in any doubt at all, do not drive a vehicle.
The laws and punishments for drug driving run along the same lines as those for drink driving. Risk it, and you are likely to lose your licence, face a stiff fine of up to £5,000 and be given a criminal record.
In addition, users of illegal drugs will face other charges for possession and are likely to be asked some awkward questions too.
Many professional drivers will have their own views on Marijuana (cannabis) and its recreation usage. I had previously looked at the effects it had on mental health and the research study found that psychotic behaviour’s indents were more prevalent in young adults using this drug.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. Its use is widespread among young people. In 2015, more than 11 million young adults ages 18 to 25 used marijuana in the past year.
Both hemp and marijuana are from the same genus and species (cannabis sativa). Marijuana is the dried leaves and flowers of the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis plant. tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, is responsible for many of the drug’s psychotropic (mind-altering) effects. It’s this chemical that distorts how the mind perceives the world. In other words, it is what makes you high.
The therapeutic properties of the cannabis are well documented but smoking a marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes (joints) in a public location could possible land you in jail. You need to be familiar with the different types of legalisation for medical or recreation use.
Within the UK, recreational cannabis use is still illegal but there is a movement to change this law. Medicinal / medical use of cannabis is used under licence only.
There are some parts of the USA that cannabis is legalised. It’s been several years since recreational cannabis was made legal in some US states.
It’s not unreasonable to reflect upon this knowledge to see how reducing / removing this legalisation would work within the UK, with regards to road safety and health.
A newspaper report in April 2019, (Guardian) said what almost half of cannabis users believe it’s safe to drive when you’re high, according to a new study by PSB Research and Buzzfeed News. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who abstain from weed, take a different view – only 14% believe someone who’s stoned can drive safely.
The dangers of driving while intoxicated have been so well established that it’s easy to assume it’s the abstainers who are right and pot-smokers are simply failing to recognize the danger they pose to themselves. But a few studies into the issue have produced a murkier picture.
It’s true that THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, can impair a person’s levels of attention and their perception of time and speed, important skills you might think for driving a car. One meta-analysis of 60 studies found that marijuana use causes impairment on every measure of safe driving, including motor-coordination, visual function and completion of complex tasks.
But a 2010 analysis published in the American Journal of Addiction found that while “cannabis and alcohol acutely impair several driving-related skills and marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively while driving by utilizing a variety of behavioural strategies”. The authors concluded that while marijuana should, in theory, make you a worse driver, in tests it doesn’t seem to. “Cognitive studies suggest that cannabis use may lead to unsafe driving, experimental studies have suggested that it can have the opposite effect” .
However, it has been estimated that 22 million Americans (9.4% of the population) have a substance use or dependence problem. As marijuana is the most commonly used drug of abuse, having been tried by 40% of the population, and is also smoked most commonly in the age group that also has the most road traffic accidents, the contribution of marijuana smoking to road traffic accidents is concerning.
A federal report to Congress, conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, came to similar conclusions in 2017. In one test, volunteers were given either marijuana, alcohol or both and then used a driving simulator. The researchers found that the stoned drivers were more cautious, exhibiting “reduced mean speeds, increased time driving below the speed limit and increased following distance during a car following task”, although they did find it more difficult to maintain position within a lane.
Both studies come with the caveat that the amount of THC consumed, and the user’s tolerance levels had an impact on results, with heavy smokers likely to be more greatly impaired. Cannabis users are often unaware of how much THC they have consumed – it’s easy to track the difference between one bottle of Budweiser or two, but harder to know how much THC is in each puff of a joint.
For that reason, this kind of research has only limited applicability to the bigger question of whether stoned drivers are likely to cause more accidents in the real world. Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether states where cannabis has been legalised have seen an increase in crashes and collisions.
A 2017 study found that fatal collisions have not risen in states where weed has been legalised, compared with control states where it remained criminalised. However, two further studies have shown that accidents, in general, are more common since weed became legal in certain states.
The Highway Institute found a 12.5% increase in insurance claims on collisions in Colorado following legalisation and a 9.7% increase in Washington. But using the same methodology, they found no observable increase in accidents in Oregon (the authors suggest this may be because legal cannabis use is not continuing to increase in Oregon as it is in the other two states).
Another study by the same organisation found an average increase of 5.2% in police reporting of crashes in states where cannabis is legal compared with control states.
So, it seems that further research is needed to work out the amount of weed that is dangerous and what exact effect it has on driving ability (and don’t those studies sound fun). While most studies suggest that drinking is more dangerous than smoking when it comes to driving ability, there is at least a correlation between increased cannabis use and car crashes.