Are Drunk Drivers 16 to 80 Times More Dangerous Than Stoned Drivers?

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

Since the legalization of limited marijuana sales in Colorado launched in January 2014, there's been lots of debate among experts about the risks of stoned driving, as well as dueling statistics aplenty. Note that one report that claimed legalization hadn't caused an increase in highway fatalities, while another maintained that pot-impaired driving fatalities were up 100 percent over the past five years.

Now come new studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which argue that while drivers with marijuana in their system are more unsafe than those who remain entirely sober, they're far less dangerous than those who drive while drunk.

We've included the entire report below, but here's an excerpt:

The results in Table 6 show that alcohol (?0.05 BrAC),together with no drug presence, has the greatest effect on crash risk (shaded), raising the risk 6.75 times over that for drivers with no alcohol and no drugs. The adjusted odds ratios for alcohol levels ? 0.05 BrAC with drugs, and for alcohol levels ? 0.05 BrAC without drugs, are both significantly increased (more than 5 times higher). The relatively small difference between the odds ratio associated with alcohol levels at or above 0.05 BrAC, with and without drugs, was not statistically significant.

And here's a look at the aforementioned graphic:
How to interpret these numbers? 9News puts them in laymen's terms: "Drivers with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 are 400 percent more likely to get into a car accident than a sober driver" —while "drivers testing positive for THC are about 25 percent more likely to crash." However, "when you factor in demographic information like age and gender, that number drops to about five percent."

Those digits appear to suggest that drunk drivers are between sixteen and eighty times more likely to crash than stoned drivers. But you can bet the findings will be disputed soon, despite them having been assembled by a federal agency.

Look below to see a KIRO-TV investigation into stoned driving, followed by the NHTSA document.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.