Legalized Marijuana and Car Accidents – What Does it Mean for You?

The legal marijuana debate has spread worldwide and entered every home with media access and an opinion.  Citizens of California have had a particularly vested interest in the legalization of weed – our state was one of the very first in the country to make recreational weed legal, following just behind Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, and D.C.

But with great privilege comes great responsibility, and drivers in California and other states with legalized recreational marijuana have had to learn this the hard way.

According to many recent studies done by different research groups, there has been an increase in accidents with drivers under the influence of recreational weed in these same states, begging the question: Where is the line between holding people accountable for their actions and letting them use the drug as is their legal right?

This question has come up in courts across the State of California through attorneys like us at Hershey Law. Although there has not been a causal increase in accidents with fatalities due to recreational marijuana, there have been an increase in accidents with injuries.

As the drivers are taken to court, they are held accountable for their actions, since driving while impaired by anything, including legalized weed, is illegal regardless of what state you are in.

Opponents of recreational weed legalization use these statistics as yet another documentation of evidence that they were right, and some proponents are beginning to agree. No matter what side of the argument you stand on, the fact remains that something has to be done to reduce the rates of driving under the influence of marijuana, recreational or not; legalized or not.

Recreational Weed Accidents by the Numbers

News reports generated from 2017 to today have appeared in magazines and newspapers such as The Washington Post, Forbes, Fortune, and CNN. These reports tell the tale of a sharp, drastic, and unarguable rise in car accident rates in the states that began legalizing recreational marijuana first.

There has not been a significant increase in fatalities with the legalization of recreational marijuana, true. But states with recreational use legalized are looking at more overall crashes.

Washington, Colorado, and Oregon are reporting an increase in car crashes by up to 6% compared to the neighboring states without legalized weed. Other studies have compared accidents by looking at police report statistics prior to and after legalization and have observed an increase of 5.2%.

Yet other studies have suggested that the rates of car accidents have gone down because drivers were replacing alcohol use with marijuana. While this may be true in theory, many long-term analyses that have studied auto accidents relating to weed show an increase in crashes caused by drivers with THC in their systems.

Right now there are not consistent regulations and trainings in place across the country for law enforcement officers to be able to detect drivers that are under the influence of weed and other drugs.

A fatal accident in Texas, a state where the use of recreational weed is illegal, back in 2018 resulted in an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. This report called for a system to be created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in which best practices and specifics for oral fluid drug screenings, as well as devices to test them with, could be used when police officers suspected drug use.

How Does Marijuana Affect the Ability to Drive?

Like with many other substances, using weed before driving affects the user’s speed of reflexes. Studies have shown that drivers who do use weed and then operate a motor vehicle have slower thinking and less perception. More tests are needed to determine when the amount of marijuana in the system seems to be too much, similar to a blood alcohol content level cutoff when drinking.

However, even though actual case studies are still in the research phases, there have been simulator studies used to show the impact of THC, the main inhibiting factor in marijuana that differentiates it from the legal CBD oil and products used across the country.

Drivers that are under the influence of recreational weed or THC marijuana have slower reaction times than other drivers. They swerve in the lane more frequently and demonstrate impairment in both cognitive performance and route planning. They also have less inhibitions when it comes to risk-taking and will make unnecessary actions or demonstrate poor judgment.

Mixing alcohol with THC resulted in weaving, poor judgement, slower driving due to overcompensation, and increased impairment, even with a lower BAC and blood THC content than either alcohol or THC limits individually.

So where does the line between freedom of use, like with alcohol, stand when it comes to the safety of others? Unfortunately, many people will pay the price in the form of injuries and, in some cases, even their lives as the courts try to sort this out.

What Does Driving While Under the Influence of THC Look Like?

Since multiple states have legalized either medical marijuana, recreational marijuana, or both, law enforcement officers must use strategies to determine if a driver is simply under the influence of cannabis or is actually driving impaired.

In some states, chemical testing is used in the same way that a blood alcohol test would be administered, but there is no exact blood level correlation between cannabis and the impairment yet. However, drug recognition experts have stepped in to train officers on how to evaluate a driver for impairment – but these trainings are not consistent throughout the country.

Symptoms of marijuana substance impairment can include glassy or bloodshot eyes, dilated pupils, slurred speech, and twitching or swaying uncontrollably. The odor of marijuana is often unmistakable, too, giving officers a warning that the driver is possibly under the influence.

What to Do if You Suspect You Were Hit by Someone Using Weed

Knowing these symptoms can help you, too, if you end up in a motor vehicle accident caused by a driver under the influence of marijuana.

There are certain steps you should take no matter who caused the accident or whether or not the driver was under the influence of any substance.

  • Check for injuries on yourself and your passengers first. If you or someone in your car is seriously injured, call 911 immediately.
  • Determine the safety of staying in your vehicle. If there is a possible risk of explosion or other danger, get yourself and your passengers out quickly.
  • Get out of the car if no one is seriously injured. Check for injuries in the other cars involved and call 911 or your local law enforcement office if 911 is not available. No matter how minor or major your accident, the police are necessary to file a report that your insurance company will need later.
  • If you suspect the other party was driving under the influence of marijuana and the responding police officer agrees, be sure you get it on the police report and get a copy of it for your insurance adjuster and your attorney.
  • Take pictures of the accident scene, damages to the vehicles, injuries on yourself or your passengers, and the surrounding area.
  • Get the other driver’s personal information and insurance and give them yours. Be sure to get their address as well as their phone number just in case the number ends up disconnected down the road.
  • If there were any witnesses, get their demographics as well.
  • Call your insurance company to report your accident as soon as possible. Don’t answer any questions regarding your damages or injuries without talking to a knowledgeable attorney who cares about your case. Hershey Law is the go-to personal injury attorney firm for clients who want to be treated like an individual instead of just a number.

Don’t let a driver using marijuana fool you by saying it’s legal. Just like alcohol is legal but driving drunk is not, neither is driving under the influence of weed. Prescription medication is legal when used as prescribed and directed by your doctor but driving under the influence of them is not.

Whether marijuana is legal or not, it is not acceptable to use it and drive when you are under the influence. Driving impaired by any substance is illegal and if your car accident was caused by someone under the influence of recreational or medical cannabis, you have rights that pertain specifically to this case.

Call Hershey Law for the Experts in Personal Injury

With the influx of car accidents caused by legalized recreational weed, the need for expert personal injury attorneys has skyrocketed. But you shouldn’t hire just any lawyer to protect your rights and get you compensation for your damages.

Do your research and look for a legal firm with a track record of caring for their clients and getting them compensation for their injuries caused by drivers under the influence of weed or other substances. Those of us at Hershey Law know that you are our lifeblood and we treat you as a person, not a number or a file.

Call us today to set up your free consultation and learn how we can help guide you through this difficult time as you recover from your motor vehicle crash injuries. We can focus on the law while you concentrate on healing and moving forward.