Drugged driving

The federal government is studying the effects of smoking marijuana on driving performance.
The federal government is studying the effects of smoking marijuana on driving performance.

Society is increasingly coming to accept that marijuana has some legitimate medical uses. Though a bill to legalize it is still languishing in the Ohio General Assembly, medical marijuana is now allowed in 22 states, including Michigan, where voters overwhelmingly approved it six years ago.

And those who love grass are also pushing for its legalization for recreational use. Colorado has effectively decriminalized pot. Up to a dozen Michigan towns may have largely symbolic proposals to decriminalize marijuana on the ballot this year.

The morality of marijuana use will continue to be debated but other, more pragmatic concerns such as traffic safety must also be considered.

Driving a car while under the influence — whether it’s marijuana or tequila — is dangerous. Thanks largely to safer automobiles, seat belt use, and relentless campaigns against drunken driving, the number of highway fatalities has fallen dramatically in recent decades, from more than 50,000 a year in 1980 to barely over 30,000 nowadays.

Still, there are more than 10,000 alcohol-related traffic fatalities every year. And new research indicates that looser restrictions on grass may make the problem worse.

Columbia University researchers found that marijuana contributed to one in every eight traffic deaths in 2010 — triple the rate of a decade before. Statistics also show a significant jump in marijuana-involved fatalities in Colorado.

These findings ought to give everyone pause. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is completing a three-year study of the effects of pot on driving performance. Those eager to relax regulations might want to await the results, then proceed with caution.