Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Ramblin' Man: Driving stoned and driving drunk not the same

By Garrison Wells Updated: April 12, 2014 at 8:05 am

In its campaign against pot and driving, the Colorado Department of Transportation has created videos that get the point across gently.

They're funny.

There's the guy getting ready to shoot a foul shot. He's standing at the line bouncing the basketball as he prepares to shoot. Except he never shoots. Just bounces the ball, over and over.

There's the barbecue video, where the man can't get the barbecue to start up. He keeps pushing the igniter.

He forgot the propane.

The campaign is "Drive high, get a DUI."

It's Colorado. We smoke pot here. We eat cannabis muffins, brownies, and wash it down with pot juice.

Someday we will eat pot baloney sandwiches. I like baloney sandwiches.

KFC in Colorado will come extra crispy, original recipe and hemp. You get high and take care of the munchies at the same time.

While the videos drive home their point about getting a DUI, though, there wasn't much about the dangers of driving high.

So far, studies are mixed.

NORML, a national organization pushing for pot reform, cites several studies that indicate driving on pot isn't so dangerous after all.

"It is well established that alcohol increases accident risk. Evidence of marijuana's culpability in on-road driving accidents is much less convincing," NORML says in a review of studies. "Although cannabis intoxication has been shown to mildly impair psychomotor skills, this impairment does not appear to be severe or long lasting. In driving simulator tests, this impairment is typically manifested by subjects decreasing their driving speed and requiring greater time to respond to emergency situations."

A generally accepted metric says that the risk of crashes for someone driving high is twofold. But studies have run the gamut, some suggesting that driving high actually decreases the risk of crashes.

Driving drunk increases the accident risk about 20 times, according to a recent study titled "Drugs and alcohol: their relative crash risk."

The study's conclusion: "Although overall, drugs contribute to crash risk regardless of the presence of alcohol, such a contribution is much lower than that by alcohol."

The report says authorities should not divert resources from drunk driving because the risk is so much lower for drivers high on pot.

On the other side, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, crashes and impaired drivers often combine the two, alcohol and pot, so getting data isn't easy.

The institute says that studies in several localities have found that about 4 to 14 percent of drivers who suffered injury or died in crashes tested positive for THC.

A study of more than 3,000 fatally injured drivers in Australia showed when THC was present in the driver's blood, the driver was much more likely to be at fault. And the higher the THC concentration, the more likely the driver was to be culpable, the institute says.

It's a debate not likely to end anytime soon, especially as the legalization of pot grows.

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