Landmark study focuses on driving after marijuana use
About five years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted a first-of-its-kind study on the prevalence and effects of marijuana use among U.S. drivers. Much to their surprise, the agency found that more than 15 percent of the drivers surveyed, all of whom were traveling on weekend nights, had drugs in their system.But the mere presence of drugs in the drivers’ blood does not automatically mean that they were breaking the law. Marijuana use is legal for medicinal purposes in Colorado and 16 other states, and although driving while impaired by any substance is illegal in every state, there has yet to be any significant research done to determine what, exactly, constitutes “impaired” for the purposes of driving under the influence of marijuana.However, the NHTSA and other federal agencies are reportedly working to change that lack of clarity with a landmark study on the impact of marijuana use on driving ability. The test will be conducted in the coming months at the National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa.
In the study, 20 participants between the ages of 21 and 55 will be given controlled doses of marijuana and asked to operate the simulator. There, they will “drive” through both unexpected and monotonous driving conditions in order to test the effects of marijuana on all conceivable traffic situations.
According to the lead researcher, previous studies on marijuana’s effect on the brain have found that it affects movement, control, memory and decision-making. Therefore, it is believed to significantly affect driving ability as well. Hopefully, the study will shed more light on exactly how much marijuana a driver must consume in order for those dangerous behaviors to take place, and give police departments an easily determinable threshold at which they can punish those who drive impaired by the drug.
Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Study looks at driving under influence of pot,” Vanessa Miller, Sept. 9, 2012
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