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Given the legality of alcohol and the widespread availability of marijuana, it is a safe bet that at any given time there are many drivers on the road who are under the influence of either of these two drugs, or both of them. There are many studies that have concluded with near unanimity that alcohol negatively affects driving performance, but what about the effects of marijuana?

The available data indicates that there is a difference in how marijuana and alcohol affect driving behaviors and abilities. Some of the more interesting findings of these studies are described below.

Effects on cognitive vs. automatic functions: Alcohol affects cognitive functions more than marijuana does. These are abilities connected to activities that require concentration or sustained attention, such as steering and braking. Marijuana affects automatic functions, such as the ability to stay in one’s lane or to maintain a consistent speed.

Over-and-underestimation of driving ability: Drivers under the influence of marijuana may underestimate their driving abilities, which in turn leads to compensatory behaviors that make them more cautious; consumers of small amounts of marijuana may even consider themselves to be impaired when they are not. Alcohol users, on the other hand, are prone to overestimate their abilities; drivers with a .04 blood alcohol content level and binge drinkers have tended to believe that they are not impaired when in fact they are. Drivers under the influence of marijuana frequently drive more slowly, while those who have drank alcohol drive faster.

Use of marijuana and alcohol in combination: Using a "cocktail" of marijuana and alcohol is perhaps worse than using either alone; it tends to bring out the worst driving characteristics of each in terms of cognitive and automatic function impairment as well as overestimation of driving ability (the compensation behaviors that marijuana-influenced drivers would otherwise employ go away).

The upshot of these studies is that although alcohol may be somewhat more dangerous to partake of than marijuana when it comes to driving, neither is safe to use by itself and using both is particularly dangerous. If you are charged with driving while under the influence of either of these drugs, you will need the services of an experienced New York defense attorney.

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