Does Marijuana Cause Traffic Accidents?

man smoking while driving

People have used marijuana for medical purposes for thousands of years. As far back as 2737 B.C., marijuana was being used to treat rheumatism, malaria, pain relief, childbirth, and gout. Today, medical marijuana is used to treat a variety of conditions and diseases, including seizure disorders, muscle spasms, nausea, chronic weight loss, and Crohn's disease.

California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. Since that time, 37 states have approved the use of medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. Marijuana has also been approved for recreational use in 19 states, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and D.C. Another 12 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have decriminalized marijuana use. Pennsylvania law allows for medical marijuana use only; possessing, cultivating, or distributing marijuana for nonmedical purposes may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the amount involved.

With so many states legalizing marijuana for medical and/or recreational use, it is important to consider what impact marijuana may have on traffic accidents.

Medical Marijuana’s Link to Traffic Fatalities

Drugged driving is just as dangerous as drunk driving. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana can impair your judgment of time and distance, slow reaction time, and decrease coordination. Marijuana is the drug that is most often found in the blood of drivers tested after crashes. One study shows that drivers with THC in their system were about twice as likely to cause a vehicle crash that results in a fatality compared to drivers with no drugs in their system. However, another study shows no significant increased crash risk associated with marijuana use.

Several sources indicate that medical marijuana is responsible for an increase in traffic fatalities.

According to a 2018 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, states that legalized recreational marijuana saw a 5.2% increase in police-reported traffic accidents.

The American Auto Association (AAA) released a report that states that the number of drivers high on marijuana at the time of a fatal car crash more than doubled in Washington State between 2013 and 2014. Washington legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012.

Colorado is another state that legalized medical marijuana and marijuana for recreational use. Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine analyzed data related to fatal car crashes before and after the legalization of medical marijuana. Researchers found that traffic fatalities involving drivers testing positive for marijuana significantly increased after the legalization of medical marijuana in 2009.

In a recent study released by the Rocky Mountain High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, researchers found that traffic fatalities related to marijuana use have increased since Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2014. The direction of Rocky Mountain HIDTA said someone would have to be in denial to believe that the increase in marijuana-related traffic fatalities is not related to the legalization of marijuana.

What Does This Mean for Me?

As more states legalize marijuana for medical use and recreational use, the number of drugged drivers will continue to rise. This puts you and your loved ones in danger every time you are on the road. Even if marijuana is approved for recreational and medical use, it is illegal to drive while one’s abilities are impaired. Just as it is against the law to drink and drive, it’s against the law to use marijuana and drive.

In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana is legal, but drugged driving is against the law. If a driver's ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired by marijuana, the driver can be arrested for drugged driving. He or she will face criminal penalties if convicted. However, if the driver causes a car crash while under the influence of marijuana, they can also be held accountable for any injuries, damages, and losses caused by the car crash.

If you were injured in a car crash with a drugged driver, you might be entitled to receive compensation for your injuries. The at-fault driver can be held accountable for your medical bills, lost earnings from missed work, and other injuries or losses you have experienced as a result of the accident.

With a case involving marijuana, whether it was being used recreationally or for medical reasons, it will boil down to whether the driver in question caused the accident. Simply being under the influence of marijuana is not enough to make a driver responsible for one’s injuries in a civil suit; the driver must have acted (or failed to act) in some way that caused the accident to occur.

Marijuana traffic accident cases come down to four factors:

  • The driver owed you a duty of care (by obeying traffic laws and driving safely);
  • The driver violated this duty (by running a red light or swerving into your lane, for example);
  • You were injured in a resulting accident (these may be mental and/or physical injuries); and
  • The driver’s actions were the proximate cause of this accident.

If you can prove all of these, you may be able to secure financial compensation from that driver for the harm you have experienced.

Pennsylvania Car Accident Attorneys: Call Today at (888) 498-3023

For the past 100 years, the Pennsylvania car accident attorneys at Handler, Henning & Rosenberg LLC have helped people throughout Central PA who have been injured in traffic collisions. We have won tens of millions of dollars over the decades, and we know how to win complicated cases. If you were injured because of a person who was driving under the influence of marijuana, contact our team today. We are dedicated to helping our clients get the best compensation possible so they can pay off their medical bills, recover lost wages, and secure their futures.

Contact our attorneys for a free consultation at (888) 498-3023. If a driver causes an accident because they are high on marijuana, our attorneys may be able to help you hold that driver accountable.

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