How Dangerous is Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana?
Recreational marijuana use has been legalized in Massachusetts and decriminalized in New Hampshire. Recently, neighboring Maine joined Massachusetts in decriminalization. Several surveys conducted over the past few years demonstrate that most Americans favor legalization. But, a study published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAA) earlier this year shines a light on a possible downside: increased risk on the road.
AAA analyzed data from one of the earliest states to legalize marijuana. The percentage of fatal motor vehicle accidents involving a driver who tested positive for THC more than doubled, from 8.8% pre-legalization to 18% over the subsequent two years. By year five, 21.7% of drivers involved in fatal traffic crashes had THC in their systems.
Legalized Marijuana Correlates with Higher Crash Rates
Marijuana testing differs from testing for certain other drugs, including alcohol. THC is known to show up in testing for days–or even weeks–after use. That means that a person may test positive for THC long after the “influence” has worn off. Therefore, it’s difficult to tell how many of those drivers were under the influence at the time of the accident, versus having lingering THC in their systems. However, a separate study conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute showed an increase in car accident claims in states that had legalized recreational marijuana. And, several studies have measured the impairment of motor skills and other functioning under the influence of marijuana.
How Does Marijuana Impact Driving?
There’s less data available with regard to marijuana-related impairment than there is alcohol-related impairment. That’s partly because the rapid shift toward legalization hasn’t allowed sufficient time for extensive study, particularly long-term studies. There’s another reason, though: because THC testing doesn’t actually reveal whether a driver was under the influence at the time of the accident, the data is less clear.
However, one analysis of multiple studies concluded that the crash risk for those driving under the influence of marijuana was more than double that of an unimpaired person. And, other studies involving test subjects have shown that cannabis use impairs motor skills, reaction times and alertness–all factors in safe driving.
One possible reason marijuana legalization correlates with a larger number of accident claims is the difference in perception between marijuana users and users of other substances that may impact safe driving. While most of us recognize that driving under the influence of alcohol slows reaction times and increases the risk of a traffic crash, almost half of the marijuana users responding to a 2019 survey said they considered it “very safe” or “somewhat safe” to drive while under the influence. In other words, those under the influence of marijuana are less likely to recognize the risks of getting behind the wheel than those indulging in alcohol.
Driving Under the Influence is Illegal
While marijuana use is legal in Massachusetts and a growing number of other states, driving under the influence is not. A driver, passenger, pedestrian, bicyclist or another person who is injured by a driver operating the vehicle under the influence of marijuana may be entitled to compensation. However, demonstrating that another driver was impaired by marijuana at the time of the accident can be more complicated than proving that a driver was under the influence of alcohol or some other drugs.
Therefore, if you’ve been injured by a driver you believe may have been impaired by marijuana at the time of the accident, it’s important to seek out information and knowledgeable guidance as soon as possible.
Attorney Kevin P. Broderick has been helping injury victims in Massachusetts and New Hampshire for decades and understands how easy it is to make critical mistakes right after a motor vehicle accident. He offers free consultations to make sure injury victims and their families have the information they need to make good decisions from the beginning.