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Liberalized marijuana laws raise questions of impaired driving

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Although two states have legalized marijuana, and several others, including New York, are on the path to try and do so, it is far from decided whether marijuana legalization will have a significant impact on traffic accidents and deaths. The studies remain divided and no medical consensus exists. In fact, a few tests have even reported no increase of impaired driving when people operate vehicles high.

One distinction made between the drunk driver and the high driver is that alcohol influences the drunk driver to take extreme and dangerous risks without really knowing it. Furthermore, the drunk driver has lost the ability to control muscle movements and nervous system functions in many instances. The high driver, conversely, remains aware of the dangers around him and tries to calculate and adjust the driving cautiousness to stay away from other vehicles or dangerous situations.

It's true nonetheless that those driving under the influence of marijuana may contend with lessened motor skills, decreased perceptive acuity, and impaired multi-tasking. Furthermore, the mixing of pot and alcohol makes the risk-taking of the driver even greater. Consequently, it appears that the worst safety outcome, in terms of risk factor for getting into an accident, will occur when mixing the two.

Based on the current paucity of information and scientifically-tested conclusions, it may be argued that there is not a medically verified risk of impaired driving when under the influence of marijuana. However, that conclusion could be challenged in light of some prior studies and whatever turns up in future tests. Probably the best strategy, based on the medical information, or lack of it, is to promote safety consciousness among marijuana users so that they clearly understand the risks involved when driving high. In New York and nationwide, the best choice under the present circumstances is for users of pot to have designated drivers and alternative options for getting around when under the influence.

Source: The Huffington Post, " Marijuana Legalization Has Researchers Wondering If Traffic Deaths Will Rise", Joan Lowy, Sept. 1, 2014

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