As some western states liberalize their marijuana laws, there has been a lot of concern among public officials and safety advocates that there will be more drivers high on pot, which will result in a big increase in traffic deaths. Just last week, a New York teen who smoked marijuana, went driving with four friends, and later hit a tree, killing all four friends was convicted of vehicular homicide and was sentenced to between five and 15 years in prison. However, currently it’s unclear whether a rise in recreational marijuana use will translate into an increase in traffic accidents.

Studies of marijuana users show that marijuana can slow decision-making abilities, make it hard to multi-task, and reduce a user’s peripheral vision. Those skills are all important to drivers. However, there’s an important difference between those who drive under the influence of alcohol and those who drive under the influence of marijuana. Those who drive under the influence of alcohol normally don’t think they are impaired and therefore may drive dangerously without realizing they are doing so. Drivers who are under the influence of marijuana normally know they are impaired and try to compensate for that impairment by driving slowly and trying to avoid risky actions.

It can be very dangerous when a person combines alcohol with marijuana and gets behind the wheel. A combination of the two seems to eliminate the caution that comes with smoking pot, and increases impairment beyond what either substance alone would do.

Currently, recreational marijuana is legal only in Colorado and Washington, but advocates are attempting to legalize it in Alaska, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon. Twenty-three states allow medical marijuana. All states make it illegal to drive while impaired by marijuana. Three states (Colorado, Montana, and Washington), have set limits for marijuana intoxication, similar to limits for alcohol intoxication, that make it illegal to drive if a driver has over that amount of marijuana in his or her bloodstream. Most states, however, do not have a specific level for marijuana intoxication.

Experts are currently conflicted over whether or not it is safe for individuals under the influence of marijuana to get behind the wheel. Some studies are very inconclusive. Other studies show that the risk of an accident is two or three times higher for someone who is under the influence of marijuana, while other studies actually show there is less of a risk of an accident if an individual smokes pot. It’s hard to know exactly how many drivers at any given time are high on marijuana – a roadside survey in 2007 found that almost nine percent of drivers tested positive for marijuana, but it’s unclear how many were high because the test only looked at whether drugs were present, but not how much had been used.

It’s also unclear whether the legalization of marijuana has resulted in an increase in accidents. Most states do not test drivers who are involved in a fatal crash for drugs unless there’s a reason to suspect they are impaired. Even if they are believed to be impaired, if the driver tests positive for alcohol, frequently no more testing is done because driving under the influence of alcohol alone is sufficient for criminal charges.

Although it may be unclear whether or not driving under the influence of marijuana is dangerous or not, it’s still illegal. If you are involved in an accident with a driver who you believe is under the influence of marijuana, other illegal drugs, alcohol, or prescription drugs, if possible insist that they be tested. You should also contact an attorney. If the person’s negligent actions caused an accident, you may be able to recover compensation for your medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages and more.

At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that drivers who drive while impaired should be held accountable for their actions to the full extent of the law. Call Micha Star Liberty, San Francisco automobile accident attorney, at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She works with clients throughout the Oakland-San Francisco area to help them maximize their recovery from their car accidents. Call to learn more.

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