A new study undertaken by the United States Government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that while marijuana users are more likely to be involved in traffic accidents, it isn’t always a direct result of the drug.
The study, the largest and “most precisely controlled” of its kind ever conducted, revealed that while alcohol dramatically increases the risk of a crash, there was no evidence that marijuana use is a statistically significant factor.
The data, drawn from 9000 motorists over 20 months, revealed that in most cases, marijuana users involved in accidents belong to a group already at high risk: young men.
Drivers who tested positive for active THC, the principal psychoactive element in cannabis, were found to be 25 percent more likely to be involved in road accidents. However, the sex and age of drivers was found to be a more revealing statistic.
The agency noted however that these results should not be taken as a declaration that driving after using marijuana is safe.
"Drivers should never get behind the wheel impaired, and we know that marijuana impairs judgment, reaction times and awareness," NHTSA Associate Administrator for Research and Program Development, Jeff Michael, said.
"These findings highlight the importance of research to better understand how marijuana use affects drivers so states and communities can craft the best safety policies."
Speaking with The Detroit Free Press this week, Former Acting NHTSA Administrator, David Kelly, said there is no question that “driving while stoned” is a risk.
We know it debilitates the ability to drive safely," he said, but that further research is needed "before more definitive "conclusions about drug use and crash risk can be reached”.
The agency said that the issue of marijuana use is of growing importance, with the drug now legal in Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington.
In Australia, a 2012 government report showed that in the five years prior, 37 percent of all drivers and motorcyclists killed had drugs in their system, with cannabis making up 21 percent of the substances detected.
A study by the Australian Drug Foundation found similar results to the NHTSA’s research, with young men more likely to drug-drive than any other group.