Driving while impaired is never a good idea. That impairment can be caused by drinking alcohol or using legal or illegal drugs, or a combination. Being behind the wheel while a substance affects you mentally and or physically is dangerous, no matter the cause. While how alcohol impacts your driving has been known for a long time, as marijuana use becomes more accepted, how it affects driving is getting more scrutiny.
Americans Love Marijuana
Currently, only two states, Idaho and Nebraska, outlaw any use of marijuana. All others allow medical use, and in 19 states recreational use is legal, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Federal law lists marijuana as an illegal, controlled substance.
If you don’t use it you probably know someone who does. It’s the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the country, reports the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They estimate that 48.2 million people in the US, or about 18% of the population, used it at least once in 2019.
That’s roughly the same as the combined population of Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, and Virginia, or a little more than half the number of Americans eating at fast-food restaurants every day.
Statistics on the Dangers of Stoned Drivers are Mixed
Pot’s legalization has made studying its effects on drivers easier.
- A 2017 study of traffic fatalities in two states, Washington and Colorado, where recreational use is legal, were compared with similar states where it’s not. Researchers found no statistical difference in traffic accident fatality rates
- The IIHS states its research shows that accident rates “spiked” after California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington legalized recreational marijuana use. But another study found that injured drivers who used marijuana (but not in combination with other drugs or alcohol) who received treatment in emergency rooms in California, Colorado, and Oregon were not more likely to be involved in accidents than non-users
- A positive marijuana test result was not associated with an increased risk of involvement in a police-reported crash, according to a 2015 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study
Though the “big picture” may be mixed, it’s clear that driving stoned is dangerous for you, your passengers, and others on the road.
A 2017 study of more than 4,000 drivers in a French police database found that drivers intoxicated by alcohol were about 17.8 times more likely to cause a fatal car crash than sober drivers. Those under the influence of marijuana were 1.65 times more likely to cause deadly accidents. A study of US data from 2007 put that number at 1.83. Though drunk drivers are far more dangerous, a stoned driver may be almost twice as likely to cause a fatal vehicle crash than a sober one.
How Marijuana Use Affects Driving
Marijuana is used in different ways. You can smoke it or eat food infused with it. Users may find it difficult to predict how their driving abilities will be impaired and for how long, according to the New York Times.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance in cannabis that makes you feel high, impairs many driving-related behaviors, including the ability to weave between lanes and response times. It can induce a feeling of paranoia, causing a panic attack while driving and make you think things around you are moving slower than they are.
Marijuana can impact judging what’s safe or not. A high driver may wrongly believe they’re driving safely, while the reality is they’re not. In a randomized trial of 191 regular cannabis users (people using it an average of 16 times a month), participants smoked substances with and without THC. They later were asked how high and impaired they felt before going through driving simulations.
About 30 minutes after smoking, half of the participants who smoked THC said they felt safe to drive. After 90 minutes, almost 70 percent said they were not impaired, though they drove just as badly and worse than those smoking placebos.
If you smoke marijuana, you’ll probably feel high within minutes and then go back to normal after three or four hours. If you consume an edible, it will take longer for the effects and how long the feeling will last is unpredictable. After a half-hour, you may not feel anything, assume you won’t get high, start driving and become impaired.
What’s the Next Step?
If you’re injured in an accident caused by a driver impaired by marijuana and are looking for an experienced lawyer, call The Fleck Firm for a free consultation at (270) 446-7000. Our team is dedicated and compassionate when fighting for our clients.
We can talk about the accident, your injuries, the law, and how it may apply in your case. You will be fully informed about your situation and the possible hurdles you may face. Insurance companies have lawyers. You should have one too.