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The Link Between Legalized Marijuana and a Rise in Traffic Accidents

The Link Between Legalized Marijuana and a Rise in Traffic AccidentsThe topic of whether marijuana should be legal is contentious and, up to this point, has been left in the hands of the states. However, recent pardons of federal marijuana offenses by President Biden may hint at marijuana reform. While some people enjoy the benefits of legalization efforts, recreational use also has pitfalls.

Although the president’s move is a positive one, we can’t overlook the risks of driving while impaired by any drug. Of those risks is increased traffic accidents and deaths involving the recreational use of marijuana. The numbers support these statements, with a 5.8% increase in collision injuries and a 4.1% increase in fatal accidents in states with legal recreational use of marijuana.

Additional information shows the increase in injuries began immediately after legalization, before retail sales even began. The increase continued to grow once retail sales commenced. The same goes for fatal accidents.

Per SciTech Daily: “Legalization removes the stigma of marijuana use, while the onset of retail sales merely increases access,” says Charles M. Farmer, Ph.D., of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “But access to marijuana isn’t difficult, even in places without retail sales. Users who previously avoided driving high may feel that it’s okay after legalization.”

Correlation vs. causation: why the data still isn’t clear

Despite the link between legalized marijuana and an increase in car accidents, data regarding how marijuana impacts a driver’s likelihood to crash is not as clear. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently collected data from injured drivers in three hospital emergency rooms across the country.

This data was mined from Sacramento, California; Portland, Oregon; and Denver, Colorado. Researchers studied more than 1,200 patients across the three hospitals. The IIHS concluded that there was no correlation between an increased likelihood of crashing if driving a vehicle after using marijuana, except when the drug was combined with alcohol.

The 1,200 patients were interviewed for more than one year and also drug tested. Only four percent of drivers in the study self-reported the use of marijuana by itself in the eight hours leading up to their accident. This was compared to the nine percent of drivers who self-reported marijuana use but were not involved in an accident.

How marijuana impairs drivers

Marijuana makes people feel slower than usual, which translates to driving habits. Drivers using marijuana will keep a greater distance between themselves and other vehicles and drive more slowly than the speed limit. They can also fail to react to sudden hazards or may overcompensate for a situation. Suppose traffic slows down, for example, and the driver responds so abruptly that they swerve out the lane and hit another vehicle. The proper reaction is to slow down to go with the traffic flow, not to switch lanes and collide with another car.

Marijuana affects reaction times, lane keeping, road tracking, and general driver attention. Unlike alcohol, which has a BAC scale, marijuana impairment is more difficult to determine without further research. Studies continue to discover and demonstrate how marijuana impairs drivers. While these are being conducted, car accidents will continue to rise exponentially.

Is marijuana legal in Georgia?

No. Per the Georgia Department of Public Health, “Georgia’s medical marijuana law allows certain qualified persons to legally possess up to 20 fluid ounces of ‘low THC oil,’ which is derived from the marijuana plant.”

This does not legalize recreational marijuana: “The law only authorizes the legal possession of up to 20 fluid ounces of low THC oil by qualified persons. It does not make the sale or possession of all types of marijuana legal in Georgia. Possession of any form of marijuana by an unauthorized person is and remains a violation of state and federal law.”

Marijuana and car accident liability

You need to take action when a driver causes a car when under the influence of marijuana. These accidents are not unlike other impaired driving accidents. The negligent driver must face penalties for your injuries and losses. Your personal injury attorney can advise you on your options regarding filing an insurance claim to recover compensation for your losses and damages.

At Harris Lowry Manton LLP, our car accident attorneys in Atlanta and Savannah are here to help if you are injured by an impaired driver. We understand how to fight for your right to financial compensation for your severe injuries, disability, lost wages, and pain and suffering. To schedule a consultation with an experienced member of our team, call our offices or fill out our contact form today. We serve clients throughout Georgia.


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