Driving while impaired: How will legalizing marijuana affect our roads?

Waiting for the Green Light

GATES, N.Y. (WROC) — We’re inching closer and closer to legislation being passed in the state that could legalize recreational marijuana. While advocates are excited this could be an economic boost we need, many are voicing concerns related to public safety.

One of the biggest – driving while impaired.

Gates Police Chief James Vanbrederode is also the Head of the Chiefs of Police Association in Monroe County. He says we can’t know ahead of time how legalizing marijuana will affect the roads, but any potential uptick in crashes is a major fear.

“Lots of people drive while high, we see it everyday,” he said.

He and many others in law enforcement have been eyeing data from 14 other states in the country who have already legalized.

“That was pretty much standard in all states, the increase in the car crashes was across the board,” said Vanbrederode.

He says if we follow the same trend as those 14 states – we could be seeing crashes at all hours of the day. Unlike alcohol where people most drive under the influence at night, those under the influence of marijuana are smoking at any hour of the day – even before work.

“People know they can smoke in their car before going in and won’t be as noticeable,” said Vanbrederode.

So how does marijuana actually affect your ability to drive a car?

Joel Yager, director of clinical services at Huther Doyle Substance Abuse Services in Rochester says it’s very similar to alcohol – response time is slower, makes you feel sleepy, and your defensive driving skills go out the window. The effect can also make you feel – invincible – not a good thing if you’re thinking of getting in a car.

“You get more confident, feel you can do anything while high, it breaks down those inhibitions,” said Yager.

Yager says unfortunately some of the people who smoke before going to work and getting in a car are hiding their life problems  – and using marijuana to cope.

“It’s anxiety, like when you drink, pressures of work, stressors going on in their life,” he said.

In which that case – they’re encouraged to seek help before getting behind the wheel.

Right now – there’s no device readily tested in the court system that can measure the level of impairment someone has based on THC. The state will launch a study due by Dec. 31, 2022, that examines the extent that cannabis impairs driving, and whether it depends on factors like time and metabolism.

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