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Does Legalized Marijuana Impact Crash Statistics?

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Jeff Sevey

With the legalization of recreational marijuana taking effect in California this year, many Roseville residents may be wondering how the new law will impact their safety, particularly on the roads. After all, another mind-altering substance, alcohol, contributed to 10,327 deaths on California roads between 2003 and 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC). Could high driving be as deadly as drunk driving? If so, will it be as prevalent given the way the new laws are set up?

If we can take other states’ experiences as an indicator of what’s to come, we can likely expect a slight increase in the number of car collision claims, according to a report by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI). Taking crash numbers from Colorado, Oregon, and Washington after these states legalized marijuana and comparing them to rates of neighboring states, HLDI determined that legalization likely has some impact, even if it is a small one.

In any case, while possessing specific amounts of marijuana may now be legal in California, driving under the influence of marijuana is still illegal and extremely dangerous. If you have been hurt in a car accident with a stoned driver, the Roseville car accident lawyers of The Sevey Law Firm can help you fight to hold them accountable through a personal injury claim.

How marijuana can cause serious impairment

Studies have varied in their results concerning how much marijuana increases crash risk, if at all. Nonetheless, driving while high on marijuana is still considered by most to be dangerous, and remains illegal in California and other states. This is because marijuana slows reaction time for most users. Driving is an activity for which reaction time is crucial – it can mean the difference between stopping before a light changes to red and driving into traffic at an intersection, or between stopping at a safe distance or rear-ending the car in front of you.

Even if an individual who is under the influence of marijuana might think that they are driving responsibly, a slower reaction time can leave them ill-equipped to take evasive action if necessary. But just because people can smoke marijuana and drive does not mean they will, which is why studies are needed to gauge the effects of legalization on car accidents.

HLDI study predicts a slight increase in collisions after legalization

The HLDI study compared crash rates in three states that had recently legalized recreational marijuana to those of nearby states that either only allowed medical marijuana or none at all. Colorado, for example, was compared to Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming. What the study found was an additional increase of varying degrees in the number of collisions reported in each state that had legalized recreational weed, compared to how rates would likely have changed if, as in the other states observed, they had not changed their laws. Here are the increases in each state which the study linked to marijuana legalization:

  •      Colorado:14 percent increase in collisions reported
  •      Washington:6 percent increase in collisions reported
  •      Oregon:4 percent increase in collisions reported

After analyzing the numbers for each state individually, HLDI did a combined analysis comparing all three of these states together to many more states which had not legalized marijuana. The result was more modest – a 3 percent overall increase in collisions reported for the three states combined. This number may be the most pertinent to states that change their laws going forward.

What this study means for residents in California

Marijuana has not been legal in California for long enough to accurately measure its impact on collisions in a scientific way. Since we can’t be sure whether our state will behave more like Colorado or Oregon, we might be safest in assuming a moderate increase of 3 percent in the number of collisions on our roads due to marijuana legalization. According to the California Highway Patrol, 178,669 injury collisions were reported statewide in 2015, the most recent year for which they have published numbers. Even a 3 percent increase in such a large number could mean 5,360 more injuries if the increase in injury collisions mirrors the increase in overall accidents.

Filing a personal injury claim against an impaired driver

If the number of injuries caused by drivers under the influence of marijuana does indeed increase, then so will the need to fight stoned drivers in personal injury claims. Anyone who gets behind the wheel after ingesting marijuana is putting others on the road at risk of serious injury. Accident victims who are hurt by an impaired driver could secure fair compensation for:

  •      Medical bills
  •      Car repairs or replacement
  •      Lost wages
  •      Future lost income
  •      Pain and suffering
  •      Other miscellaneous expenses

In addition, families who lose a loved one in an accident could be eligible to file a wrongful death claim against the person responsible for the crash.

Recovering any damages in a personal injury suit in California requires proving that the other party was at fault, but in accidents involving one driver who was under the influence of marijuana, there is a good chance that that driver will be found at fault. If you have been hurt in a car accident with a stoned driver, you should consider your options, and hire an experienced California personal injury lawyer.

Contact an impaired driving accident lawyer serving Roseville today

Any major change in laws that could impact traffic safety is a serious concern. If you are hurt in an accident with a driver who was under the influence of marijuana, you need an injury lawyer who knows the law and is ready to fight for you. At The Sevey Law Firm, our Roseville car accident lawyers have years of experience fighting negligent drivers to hold them responsible for the injuries they’ve caused to unsuspecting victims. We know how to handle drunk driving claims, and we can fight stoned driving claims with the same skillful and aggressive action. For more information on how we can help you, call us today at (916) 788-7100.

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