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Marijuana's hazy contribution to highway deaths

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 3:23am
Joan Lowy - Associated Press - Associated Press
 
              FILE - This  Oct. 8, 2012 file photo shows the wrecked Subaru Impreza in which four people died as it is loaded onto a flatbed truck on the Southern State Parkway in West Hempstead, N.Y., after and early-morning accident. At the wheel was a New York teenager, Joseph Beer, who had smoked about $20 worth of marijuana, before getting into the car with four friends, and driving over 100 mph before crashing into trees with such force that it split the car in half. As states liberalize their marijuana laws, public officials and safety advocates worry that more drivers high on pot will lead to a spike in traffic deaths. Researchers who have studied the issue, though, are divided over whether toking before taking the wheel in fact leads to more accidents. (AP Photo/Frank Eltman, File)

Public officials and safety advocates worry there will be more drivers high on pot and a big increase in traffic deaths as states liberalize marijuana laws.

It's not clear, though, whether those concerns are merited. Researchers are divided on the question.

Studies of marijuana's effects show the drug can slow decision-making, decrease peripheral vision and impede multitasking. But drivers high on pot tend to be aware that they are impaired and try to compensate by driving slowly, avoiding risky actions and allowing extra room between vehicles.

On the other hand, combining marijuana with alcohol appears to eliminate the pot smoker's exaggerated caution and to increase driving impairment beyond the effects of either substance alone.

It is illegal in all states to drive while impaired by marijuana.

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