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CHP: Marijuana DUI A Growing Problem In Santa Cruz County

SANTA CRUZ (KCBS) - So far this year, five of the eight deadly car crashes in Santa Cruz County have involved drivers who had smoked pot before getting behind the wheel, the California Highway Patrol said Friday.

"Marijuana DUI has become an issue in Santa Cruz County," said CHP Officer Sarah Jackson.

The local CHP office has launched an awareness campaign about so-called drugged driving, which Jackson noted can involve even drugs legally prescribed by a doctor.

KCBS' Matt Bigler Reports:

"It's not safe to drive while you're impaired, whether it's marijuana or alcohol or prescription drugs or any other illicitly or legally obtained drug. If it impairs you to drive, you definitely should not be driving," Jackson said.

The belief that driving while stoned is safer than drunk driving is particularly prevalent among younger pot smokers, said Paul Willis, a drug educator at the UC Santa Cruz Student Health Office.

"Oftentimes, the rationale for driving under the influence of pot is by comparison with alcohol, it's much safer," he said. "When I smoke pot, I tend to slow down, that kind of thing."

Willis said that idea is dead wrong, citing a recent Canadian study that found drivers who smoked marijuana up to four hours before beforehand were nearly twice as likely to have a collision as sober drivers.

"Anything that causes distraction, that slows a response time, is going to increase risk for accidents," Willis said.

Jackson and Willis both noted that marijuana-impaired drivers tend to think they drive slower when they are high, not taking into account how the drug distorts the perception of time and distance.

"You have people who perceive themselves as driving quite slowly when in all actuality, they're driving at quite high rates of speed," Jackson said.

The idea of a designated driver during a pub crawl now seems perfectly normal. Jackson said the idea needs to catch on in other areas of the culture.

"We've done a really good job as a society of spreading the designated driver message when it comes to alcohol," she said.

"If we can just take this message and spread it to the other substances, I think it will make our roadways much safer for everybody."

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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