For years, marijuana supporters have claimed that the drug is less harmful than alcohol. Yet when it comes to car accidents, its effects and influence have not been studied thoroughly until recently. In July, the Highway Loss Data Institute released an analysis of three states where the drug has been legal since 2014 – Oregon, Washington and Colorado – and its effect on collision claims.
Based on the data gathered, total collision claims have gone up an average of three percent since these three states legalized marijuana. However, these scenarios have a few more variables. For one, because of legalization, more drivers pulled over admit to using marijuana. Secondly, more individuals are using the drug beyond medical purposes. As marijuana and alcohol affect the body differently, some say the two should not be compared on this level.
Yet, additional studies indicate that, like alcohol, marijuana can have a negative effect on motorists.
More Collisions Than Neighboring States
According to data from simulation and on-road studies, marijuana can almost double a driver’s crash risk. Yet, few studies examine real-world crashes and others find that, when used medically, the drug’s effects on driving are inconsistent.
Yet, the HLDI study compared collision figures in Oregon, Colorado and Washington to those from surrounding states and all three exceeded in varying degrees. Colorado was about 14 percent higher, Oregon four percent and Washington six percent since 2014.
Although these states legalized marijuana three years ago, others have allowed the drug for medicinal purposes as early as 1998. Showing an increased risk, a Columbia University study released in 2010 found that, among 24,000 driving fatalities that year, marijuana had been involved in about 12 percent – double the amount from a decade earlier.
Even in the early 2000s, another study looking at 7,934 drivers found that those with cannabinoids in their system are still more likely than drug-free drivers to get into an accident. Yet, researchers found that while drivers under the influence of alcohol tend to behave riskier on the road and thus increase their accident risk, motorists under the influence of marijuana have a slower response time, but are cognizant of their impairments. As a result, drivers solely under the influence of marijuana may become hyper-focused on the road to compensate.
No Clear Definition of “Impaired”
While some studies show that cannabis can impair motorists behind the wheel, a defined level has yet to be established. For instance, in Colorado and Washington, motorists with more than five nanograms per milliliter of THC can be prosecuted, but in Oregon, police officers’ observations determine if a driver is under the influence.
Additionally, even those with under five nanograms per milliliter of THC can fail sobriety tests when pulled over. In some states, this accounts for 70 percent of drivers under the influence of cannabis.
Furthermore, officers continue to deploy the same tests used to determine alcohol-related impairment. But, as the body reacts differently to THC, drug-recognition experts have stated that these methods are not entirely reliable.
Along with these points, several drivers combine the two drugs and, since legalization, the number of motorists involved in fatal crashes with both drugs in their system has increased from 8.3 percent to 17 percent.
Despite these findings, NORML, a long-standing proponent for marijuana legalization, still claims that cannabis can’t be responsible for motor vehicle accidents. Rather, they allege that the impairments from the drug are not as severe or long-lasting and its effects amount to slower driving speeds and longer response times.
However, even sober motorists can get into collisions, which can lead to unfair compensation from the insurance company. If you’ve found yourself involved in this situation, understand that Trantolo & Trantolo is on your side. To bring attention to your claim, contact us today.