How Will Changing Marijuana Laws Affect Drivers?

Recreational marijuana is now legal in Colorado and Washington, seventeen states and DC have decriminalized the possession of non-medical marijuana, and twenty three states, including Nevada, permit the sale of medical marijuana. It is clear that attitudes about pot are shifting, and we’re likely to see more states decriminalize or even legalize the drug in the next few years. As the laws change, there’s one question that we should all be asking: will there be an increase in car accidents due to marijuana impairment?


How Common is Drugged Driving?


It is illegal in Colorado and Washington (and every other state) to drive while under the influence of marijuana, but that does not mean that all drivers are heeding the law. Nationwide, an estimated 10.3 million adolescents and adults reported driving while high in the previous year (the survey was conducted in 2012). Teens, whose brains are still developing and who tend to be bigger risk-takers than adults, are particularly at risk for driving under the influence. A 2012 survey from the University of Michigan found that over 10% of high school seniors reported smoking pot before driving sometime in the two weeks prior to the survey. Teenage drivers are also less experienced than adult drivers, and the combination of this inexperience mixed with pot can be a deadly combination.


Legalization is also having an effect on the number of people who drive with marijuana in their systems. There was a 25% increase of drivers testing positive for weed in Washington the first year after legalization in that state, although there was no significant increase in statewide car accidents.


Studies of Marijuana’s Effect on Driving Have Mixed Results


Studies of Marijuana’s Effect on Driving Have Mixed Results


There have been numerous studies about the effects of marijuana on driving, but so far the results have been somewhat inconclusive. It is clear that marijuana slows reaction time and impairs coordination, making it more difficult for stoned drivers to maneuver out of danger if, say, the driver in front of them slams on their brakes or another car suddenly changes lanes. However, stoned drivers are more aware that they are intoxicated than drunk drivers, which generally makes them more likely to slow down and focus than they would if they were sober.


However, not everyone agrees that smoking and driving is so innocuous. In fact, data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System revealed that fatal car crash accidents involving someone who was high tripled over the course of ten years—from 4.2% in 1999 to 12.2% in 2012. While that percentage is quite a bit lower than the percentage of accidents caused by drunk drivers, it still accounts for a significant number of needless deaths.


Take Legal Action If You’re Injured by a Stoned Driver


While there may not be a consensus on the dangers of driving while high, drivers need to remember that it’s still illegal to smoke weed and get behind the wheel in all 50 states and DC, and that it constitutes reckless behavior. If you are injured in a car accident with a stoned driver, talk to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible to determine if the other driver is liable for your accident. Chances are, if the driver tested positive for THC, they will be found partially or fully at fault for the accident and you will be eligible for compensation.


About the Author:

Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of The Law Office of Andrew Winston. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”-an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state-and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”