Alcohol Versus Marijuana – Which Substance is More Dangerous on the Road? :: Florida DUI Lawyers Whittel & Melton Discuss a New Study that Yields Interesting Results

Several tests and studies reveal a leading hypothesis that people are more likely to be cognizant of and compensate for their intoxication when under the influence of marijuana as opposed to alcohol.

Accordingly, a new study conducted by two economists from the University of Colorado Denver and Montana State University suggests that laws legalizing the use of medical marijuana have reduced traffic fatalities by decreasing alcohol intake in young adults.

The pair of economists researched traffic fatalities nationwide, including the 13 states where marijuana has been legalized between 1990 and 2009. In those 13 states, there is evidence that supports alcohol consumption by young adults’ ages 20-29 dropped, resulting in fewer driving fatalities. In fact, the study yielded almost a nine percent drop in traffic fatalities and a five percent reduction in beer sales.

The authors also noted that while legalizing medical marijuana shows a correlation between a reduction in alcohol sales, people tend to be more wary of driving stoned as opposed to drunk.

So, which drug is more dangerous behind the wheel? According to studies, alcohol is more hazardous on the road than marijuana despite the difficulties in directly comparing the two.

Driving impairment relies on dosage and the two substances can affect different skills. Marijuana can affect a driver’s ability to stay in a lane, while alcohol can affect a driver’s ability to focus on yielding to pedestrians or properly following traffic signs and signals.

Despite the differences, a Yale psychiatrist wrote in a 2009 article that alcohol is considerably more dangerous than pot. Auto accident data reports that drivers impaired by alcohol are nearly 10 times more likely to cause a deadly accident than a driver that is high. The psychiatrists’ literature review found studies that indicated smoking one-third of a joint or less has almost no impact on a driver’s road behavior. There are even some studies that support that pot smokers cause fewer accidents than sober drivers.

Experiments testing driving skills such as coordination, reaction time and visual cues without actually driving, found that sober people fared much better than subjects high off THC. However when tested behind the wheel of a driving simulator, shockingly, people using marijuana performed average. Interestingly, studies show that when doses are moderate, marijuana users show minimal driving impairment while experienced smokers show almost no indication of impairment at all.

In a recent study, participants who smoked one-third of a joint recognized that they were impaired, even though the test suggested they were not. In contrast, participants who had two drinks believed they were fine, but delivered a poor performance in driving tests. When tested in driving simulators, pot smokers drove slower than drunk drivers even when reminded by researchers to increase their speed. Likewise, THC users gave the car in front of them more room and were less likely to try and pass them. Alcohol seems to increase risky driving patterns, and motorists who are drunk are more likely to speed, tailgate and recklessly pass other vehicles on the roads.

Regardless of these interesting finds, driving high can be extremely dangerous. When drivers have a large quantity of THC in their bodies it has been found that they have trouble staying in their lane, react slower to changing lights and other unexpected road signs and are oblivious to their driving speed. Other studies show that motorists with a THC level equal to about one-half of a joint are more likely to cause a collision than sober drivers.

While the comparisons between driving high and driving drunk cannot be explained entirely, the most consistent driving studies indicate that combining marijuana and alcohol together create much more of a hazard than when either is taken alone. Drivers who are drunk and high can drive recklessly, speed, engage in risky road behavior and engage in other dangers due to being unaware of their intoxication.

According to Florida’s 2010 Traffic Crash Statistics report, drivers operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol were the second leading cause of fatal accidents in Florida. A total of 794 alcohol-related traffic deaths occurred Florida in 2010. There were 106 drug-related traffic fatalities on Florida’s roads in 2010.

Ultimately, no matter what studies and research reveals, it is against the law to operate a vehicle while intoxicated due to alcohol, drugs and even prescription pills. In the state of Florida, for a driver to be impaired from the effects of drugs or alcohol, there must be a high enough concentration of the substance in the driver’s system that prevents safe driving patterns. Anyone of the legal drinking age with a blood-alcohol concentration of .08 or higher could be found guilty of DUI.

A Florida DUI charge can come from operating a vehicle while impaired from prescribed or not prescribed medication, illegal drugs, alcoholic beverages or any combination of the three. The state has numerous ways to prove their case against a defendant, but ultimately it must be demonstrated that the motorist was over the legal limit of alcohol consumption or had enough drugs or alcohol in their system that hindered their “normal faculties.” A driver’s level of medications, drugs or alcohol in their system can be tested through breath, urine or blood tests. Even if the State does not have such tests, they can enforce a DUI charge if a police officer believes that the driver’s actions showed signs of being under the influence of medication, illegal drugs and/or alcohol. The laws in Florida surrounding DUI are complex, but attorneys at the Law Offices of Whittel & Melton can explain which laws apply to your case and can provide you with the representation needed for your unique situation.


If you or someone you love has been arrested or charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in the state of Florida, contact the Florida DUI Lawyers at the Law Offices of Whittel & Melton, LLC online or reach us statewide and toll-free at 1-866-608-5LAW (5529).

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