Has Marijuana Legalization Led to Increase in Car Accidents?
Has Marijuana Legalization Led to Increase in Car Accidents?

*This post was originally published on August 3, 2017. It has been updated with new information.

Marijuana legalization is happening rapidly across the country, with multiple states passing ballot measures to legalize medicinal use of the drug this past election. Recreational sales of marijuana became legal in California on January 1, 2018. With the spread of legalization, studies are beginning to emerge regarding the effects marijuana is having on society.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), marijuana use among drivers increased by 13% over the past year. A study published last month in De Gruyter’s Journal of Drug Policy Analysis reveals that THC has surpassed alcohol for the most commonly detected intoxicant among U.S. drivers. The study also suggests that the number of drivers under the influence of marijuana is likely to rise, due to increased legalization and the subsequent increase in cannabis sales in the U.S.

Does Marijuana Legalization Lead to Increase in Accidents?

A study conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) examines how marijuana legalization has affected car accident claims. The study examined collision insurance claims in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, following legalization in those states. The study showed that, when compared with surrounding states, collision claims in the three states increased by 2.7 percent in the years following recreational marijuana legalization. Matt Moore, senior vice president of HLDI, says the data suggests the increased crash risk in these states is linked to legalization.

How Does Marijuana Affect Driving?

Studies have not been able to conclusively determine whether marijuana use leads to more crashes. Two European studies found that drivers with THC (the chemical in cannabis responsible for the euphoric high users experience) in their blood were about twice as likely to be in a fatal crash than drivers who had not used drugs or alcohol. However, these studies cannot draw a clear link between marijuana use and fatal crashes for several reasons. For one, marijuana can remain the bloodstream for weeks after use. Secondly, drivers who have THC in their blood are often also under the influence of alcohol.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted its own study on the subject. When they accounted for the drivers’ age, gender, race and the presence of alcohol in their system, they found no significant increase in crash risk due to marijuana use.


Legal THC Limits for Drivers

Several states have laws forbidding drivers from having any level of marijuana in the blood. Others set limits like 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. The problem with this method is that marijuana is not metabolized the same way as alcohol.

According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a driver with a higher level of THC could be less of a hazard on the road than a driver with a low level. Having THC limits similar to blood-alcohol content limits could therefore lead to unsafe drivers going free and others being wrongfully convicted of driving under the influence. AAA suggests that looking at behavioral and psychological patterns in drivers who have used marijuana might be more effective.

General Effects of Marijuana

It might not be clear yet whether marijuana use leads to an increased crash risk. However, the effects of marijuana on users are well known. In the context of driving, the impairment of marijuana is certainly cause for concern. For instance,

  • Marijuana can slow reaction time and decision-making ability
  • Marijuana can also affect coordination, perception, problem-solving ability and memory
  • Drivers who have a combination of marijuana and alcohol in their systems have a greater risk of crashing than those who used either substance by itself

The Bottom Line: Don’t Smoke and Drive

Clearly, much more research is needed to determine the best ways to test drivers under the influence of marijuana. For now, the safest course of action for drivers is to not use marijuana and drive. Although marijuana has been legalized in California, driving under the influence of marijuana can still get you a DUI.

California has yet to set a legal driving limit for THC in the bloodstream. However, a police officer who suspects you are under the influence can conduct a field sobriety test. The officer can then take a blood sample back to the station for testing. In some counties, officers are using a mouth swab test to test saliva for the presence of drugs, including marijuana.

“The fact remains that we do not know enough about driving under the influence of marijuana at this point. However, we do know that the drug affects coordination, reaction times and other cognitive abilities. If you are going to use marijuana, staying off the road is the safest choice,” said Attorney Walter Clark, founder of Walter Clark Legal Group.

Our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout the California Low Desert and High Desert communities for over 30 years. With a 95% success rate, the personal injury attorneys at Walter Clark Legal Group will fight to hold those responsible for your loss accountable and win compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you have been injured in an auto accident and want to discuss your legal options, contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We have offices in Indio, Rancho Mirage, Victorville, and Yucca Valley and represent clients through the entire California Low Desert and High Desert communities.

DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.

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