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Has marijuana legalization meant more impaired driving?

If you have been hit by a marijuana-impaired driver, you have been personally affected by a powerful trend. Now that the majority of states have legalized marijuana for some purposes, you might expect that the rate of impaired driving would be higher. You would be right to be concerned.

Marijuana does impair the ability to drive

Surprisingly, some people don't realize that it is illegal to drive while high, but it is. This is true even in California and other states where marijuana is legal for recreational purposes.

Research shows that marijuana affects both cognitive and motor skills. While marijuana can affect users differently, most researchers have found that marijuana impairs:

  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Associative learning
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Reaction time

The more marijuana that is consumed, the greater its intoxicating effect. And, there is some evidence that today's marijuana is more potent than it was decades ago. Also, mixing marijuana with alcohol or some other drugs can increase the level of impairment.

Since the use of marijuana among adults has risen after legalization, so has the number of drivers who are impaired by THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, according to early evidence collected by the Insurance Information Institute.

States where weed is legal for recreational use have experienced a higher frequency of collision claims. In addition, a 2018 study of police-reported crash rates in Colorado, Oregon and Washington found about a 5.2% increase in such crashes after legalization, compared to other states.

At the same time, the evidence is conflicting as to whether marijuana legalization increases the number of fatal crashes. Early evidence found an increase in THC-positivity rates in fatal crashes.

Overall, the extent to which marijuana use increases a driver's crash risk is unclear. However, it is clear that marijuana impairment increases the likelihood that the driver will be found culpable in a crash.

Are people really driving while high?

Yes, it seems that they are. According to one survey from Colorado, almost 70% of people who admitted consuming cannabis reported driving while high at least once in the previous year. Another survey indicated that 16-20% of current cannabis users reported driving within two or three hours of consumption, which could indicate they were high when they drove. The high effect generally lasts a few hours.

On the other hand, less than 3% of all Colorado adults reported driving within a few hours of consuming marijuana. By comparison, about 2% of adult Coloradoans report driving after drinking "too much."

The key takeaway for victims of car crashes is that the other driver's marijuana impairment could be a significant factor. Discuss your concerns with an experienced personal injury attorney.

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