Given the recent deregulation and decriminalization of marijuana in some states nationwide, and the specter of more states considering the same, more and more law enforcement officers may encounter a greater number of people driving while high on marijuana. Potentially dangerous in its own right, marijuana combined with alcohol is a highly dangerous mix. Specifically, alcohol intensifies marijuana’s effects and decreases a person’s ability to drive safely. One must understand that mixing the two can create hazardous situations for the driver and anyone else on the road.
Marijuana use in drivers has increased significantly from 2007 to 2014. According to statistics recently released by the Department of Transportation and the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration, marijuana use increased 47 percent over those seven years. In total, 12.7% of all drivers on the road are operating their vehicle after ingesting marijuana. The test results did not include drivers who had consumed alcohol and smoked marijuana. Therefore, it is unknown exactly how many drivers are on the road who are driving on two or more intoxicants.
Alcohol substantially enhances marijuana’s intoxicating effects. In 2000, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration commissioned a study to determine how driving after consuming both marijuana and alcohol impacted their driving. The study employed two different tests to measure students’ performance who took “moderate doses” of both marijuana and alcohol compared to those who were completely sober, had smoked some marijuana only, or had consumed only alcohol. The first test, called the “Road Tracking Test,” measured the driver’s ability to maintain a constant speed of 62 miles per hour and stay in the right lane. Not surprisingly, the test results revealed that drivers who combined marijuana and alcohol drove as though their BAC was .09 to .14, meaning they found it difficult to drive within the designated travel lane.
The second test was the “Car Following Test.” It measured the driver’s ability to react to the vehicle in front it of while maintaining a safe distance. Again, the results are not surprising. The study demonstrated that at 59 miles per hour, it took over 6 seconds for the driver under the influence of marijuana and alcohol to “begin to react” compared to the sober driver who took just over 4 seconds to react to the car in front. The difference in reaction time caused the car to travel an additional 139 feet before the driver slowed down in response to the car before it.
The research is conclusive and immutable: combining marijuana and alcohol significantly intensifies the level of intoxication. This research proves that driving after combing the two substances will deprive the driver of essential skills necessary to operate a vehicle safely. Even just smoking a small amount of marijuana and only having one or two drinks, can result in impairment. Consequently, states such as Minnesota criminalize such behavior because of the dangerous situation it creates on the roads.
An arrest and conviction for operating while impaired by two or more substances, such as marijuana and alcohol, can cause great hardship and must not be taken lightly. A conviction for driving while impaired for a first offense in punishable by not more than 90 days in jail. A conviction will result in the payment of fines and fees, loss of driver’s license for 90 days, increased insurance premiums, and possibility of driving with an ignition interlock system. A conviction also means that a driver will face even tougher penalties for subsequent offenses. Given the above, understanding how marijuana and alcohol interact may convince you to avoid driving while impaired.
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