Will the Legalization of Marijuana Increase Traffic Accidents?

marijuana picture

Last November, California voted to legalize the recreational use marijuana. California became just one of eight states to legalize recreational pot. As marijuana use becomes acceptable, experts are afraid that California’s roads may become very dangerous.

A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association found that the number of drivers who operate a car under the influence of drugs has risen over the past 10 years. The number of drivers found to be operating a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana increased by the greatest amount.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is the drug that is second most commonly involved in crashes. The most common is alcohol. Many wonder if California’s roads will be less safe as California prepares to legalize marijuana in January. Will the legalization of marijuana lead to an increase in the number of personal injury accidents in San Diego and California?

Accident Statistics in Other States With Legal Marijuana

California is not the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. It has, however, had fairly-relaxed medical marijuana laws on the books for almost two decades. As more states have legalized marijuana, more data has been available to help answer an important question. Does the legalization of marijuana put American drivers at a greater risk of harm on the roads? Preliminary studies, looking at the use of medical and recreational pot, have been conducted across the country.

One study reviewed accident statistics and insurance claims in states that legalized medical marijuana. It found that the number of traffic fatalities actually decreased. In fact, the study found that the number of DUIs had declined. DUI arrests declined the most amongst the age-group that had formerly been most likely to drive while intoxicated.

Another study found that the number of injury-causing traffic accidents (based on insurance claims) increased after recreational marijuana was legalized in three northwestern states. However, according to another study, the injuries caused in accidents after the legalization of recreational marijuana were no more severe. So, legalizing marijuana could result in more frequent, but no less harmful, traffic accidents. Or, legalizing marijuana could result in less frequent accidents altogether. More studies of traffic accident statistics and insurance claims will have to be done to truly understand the effect the legislation will have on California drivers.

Understanding How Marijuana Affects the Ability to Drive Safely

In California, you may not be entirely prohibited from driving a car after you have a couple of alcohol drinks. If your blood alcohol level (BAC) is less than .08% you are not per se guilty of driving while intoxicated. Police may have the discretion to determine if you can operate a vehicle safely if your BAC is close to that limit. Scientists in San Diego are conducting studies to determine a similar level of intoxication for drivers who smoke or ingest marijuana before getting behind the wheel. The study aims to determine:

  • (a) how much marijuana it takes to impair an average person;
  • (b) how long it takes to affect the mental and physical reaction times of an average person; and
  • (c) how the marijuana can impair the ability to drive.

The study asks participants to consume marijuana and then engage in a simulated driving exercise. The scientists hope to be able to identify a marijuana BAC that is the equivalent of the alcohol BAC.

Drug Use and Current California DUI Laws

Under the current California law, it is illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of any amount of marijuana in your system. The San Diego scientists may be trying to understand when and how marijuana may affect a driver’s ability to operate a car. However, it is unlikely that the current DUI laws will change.

If you are injured by a driver who is under the influence of marijuana you will probably be able to recover compensation from them for your injuries. This will likely be true regardless of any changes in the DUI laws. Drivers who decide to get behind the wheel of a car have a duty to operate the vehicle with reasonable care. Using marijuana, regardless of the fact that it will soon be legal, will not excuse a driver from liability if they cause an accident or injury. On the contrary: if a driver is found to be under the influence of marijuana that fact will probably be a strong indicator of negligence.

If you are injured by a driver who is under the influence of marijuana you may be entitled to compensation for the harms you have suffered. The car accident attorneys at Injury Trial Lawyers, APC can help. A personal injury lawsuit can hold negligent drivers accountable for their actions. An attorney can help you recover the damages you need to get better. Contact our office today for a free consultation and to learn about your legal rights.