As recreational marijuana is legalized in more states, researchers are examining whether or not there has been an increase in car accidents in states where pot is legal to own and use in small quantities. If there has been an increase in car crashes, is that tied to legalization of marijuana?
While legalization is a relatively recent trend and applies to only a few states, several other states are considering legalization.
Studies that examine the connection between marijuana and driving performance are relevant everywhere, not only in states where marijuana is legal. Marijuana use is common in the U.S., both where it is legal and where it isn’t.
Where Is Marijuana Legal?
To date, 10 U.S. states (along with the District of Columbia and the Northern Mariana Islands) have legalized recreational use of pot, and 13 have decriminalized having small amounts of marijuana in your possession. More states are coming on board all the time, but the list at present includes:
An even bigger group of states, 32 states at the time of this writing, allow medical marijuana usage.
While legal marijuana use is clearly on the rise, the issue is not cut and dried. Many employers disallow their employees to use any type of drugs and may regularly or randomly drug test employees. A positive drug test could lead to suspension or termination and could be very dangerous if, for example, you drive as part of your job (more on that shortly). So the legal protected status of recreational use may be extremely limited and should be fully understood before you use it.
Effects of Marijuana on Drivers
It is important to note that while recreational use of pot is legal in these states, marijuana is still a controlled substance; you should never get behind the wheel of a car after using pot, just as you should never drink alcohol and drive. It is not only dangerous; it is illegal to drive while impaired by alcohol or any drug, which can even include prescription drugs. Unlike alcohol, marijuana can also stay in your system for several days. So while its use may be technically legal for personal, recreational purposes, driving is not a good idea.
Marijuana slows your reaction time and ability to make quick decisions, an essential skill while driving. It can impair your coordination and interfere with problem-solving and visual perception. You are constantly problem-solving and reacting to situations and stimuli while behind the wheel. When combined with another drug like alcohol, the negative effects of marijuana are increased.
Crashes from Drivers Using Marijuana
Colorado, Oregon, Nevada and Washington have shown higher car crash statistics after pot was legalized, with from just over 5% to as much as 6% increase in the number of crashes per year than in neighboring states where the drug is not legal. However, while collisions are on the rise, a similar study suggests that fatalities from car crashes weren’t proven to have increased. While that is good news, collisions can be very serious and cause everything from minor injuries and minimal car damage to major, life-changing consequences.
The trends are just beginning to be studied as legalization is relatively recent in most states, and more data must be gathered before real conclusions can be drawn or before cause and effect can be proven.
However, the early data clearly suggests that states that have legalized both recreational and medicinal marijuana are seeing an increase in the number of automobile accidents.
Also troubling is the number of drivers who have children in the car when they are involved in a crash after using marijuana. This could be because marijuana use isn’t primarily an evening activity like alcohol, and people are using pot at all times of the day, including when they are transporting children to and from school or other activities. This is very dangerous and could result in additional child endangerment charges being filed against the driver if they cause an accident while driving after using marijuana.
Clearly, marijuana has some impact on a driver’s abilities. Research on this topic is important, because it combats the argument that this substance is harmless. When it comes to road safety, it is anything but harmless.
If you have been involved in an accident with a marijuana-impaired driver in Illinois, contact accident attorney Jeff Green to schedule a free consultation.