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Texting while driving: Is it worse than driving high?

Several states now permit recreational marijuana use, and several more allow medical marijuana. That has led to the question of driving under the influence. Many users claim that marijuana does not impair driving. While there is no safe level of intoxication before getting behind the wheel, a new study shows that the public still perceives driving while high as less dangerous than other behaviors behind the wheel.  

According to a new poll, the public views distracted driving as more dangerous than driving while high.  Meanwhile, the number of motor vehicle accidents is on the rise.  Whether this trend can be attributed to the legalization of marijuana or more drivers texting behind the wheel is up for debate.

Car wrecks are on the rise

The number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents topped 40,000 in 2016, a six percent increase from the previous year.  This trend seems to parallel the increasing legalization (or decriminalization) of marijuana. A few states that permit recreational marijuana use have seen considerably higher incidents of auto crashes.  While millennials are more likely than any other age group to drive while high, the percentage of 18-34 year-olds who admitted to doing so was relatively small at 6 percent.  Research has not been able to document a direct relationship between marijuana use and higher rates of car accidents.

More concrete data is available, however, to establish the link between auto collisions and smartphone use.  The Department of Motor Vehicles reported that, in 2014, using a cellphone behind the wheel contributed to 26 percent of all auto accidents.  Distracted driving claims at least nine lives and causes more than 1,000 injuries daily.  Texting is the most dangerous distracted driving activity and poses more of a threat to safety than drunk driving.  Teens are especially likely to get into an accident because of texting.

Motorists see distracted driving as the greatest danger

According to a recent Harris Poll, motorists think texting while driving is more dangerous than operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.  Ninety-one percent of those surveyed claimed that driving after using the drug is dangerous, but only 40 percent believed that driving while high contributes to the uptick in car accidents.  Nearly all the respondents cited using social media and texting (99 and 98 percent, respectively) as the most likely culprits behind the increase in traffic accidents.  Attitudes are changing.  In the past, motorists considered driving while intoxicated to be the most hazardous, but they now recognize that distracted driving can pose a greater peril than impaired driving.  Hopefully in the coming years, statistics will reflect that shift with declining rates of texting-related accidents.

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