Will Legalization of Marijuana Affect Rate of Personal Injury Accidents in California?

Last November, Californians voted to legalize the use of recreational marijuana in the state. On January 1, 2018, California will become the 5th state in the country (plus Washington, D.C.) to permit the recreational use of marijuana. Some have expressed concerns that legalizing marijuana would have devastating effects on the rate of traffic accidents and/or traffic fatalities. Two recent studies about the effects of the legalization of recreational marijuana on personal injury may offer some insight into what is in store for California.

Legalizing Marijuana May Contribute to a Greater Number of Minor Accidents

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) analyzed insurance claims filed between January 2012 and October 2016, looking for indications that the legalization of recreational marijuana in three states may have had an impact on the number of accidents in those states. Claims for Washington, Oregon, and Colorado – the states which had recently legalized marijuana – were analyzed and compared to claims for Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana – states in close geographic proximity that had not legalized marijuana. The study found that the number of insurance claims filed in the three states that had legalized marijuana had grown by almost 3%. The states that did not legalize marijuana saw no such increase.

What does this mean? The study only looked at the number of insurance claims filed before and after states legalized recreational marijuana, finding that the number of accidents appeared to have increased. The study did not look at the severity of these accidents or if the victims filing these claims requested higher compensation for their injuries. Regardless, the data seems to indicate that there may be a correlation between legal recreational marijuana use and an increase in traffic accidents.

Legalizing Marijuana May Not Contribute to More Serious Accidents

A study published by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) picked up where the IIHS study left off, analyzing the severity of accidents before and after legalization. The study compared the number of reported car accident deaths in Colorado and Washington before and after legalization to the number of car accident deaths in similar states during that same timeframe. It found that there was no increase in car accident-related deaths in states where recreational marijuana was legalized.

What does this mean? According to the Washington Post, the two studies, when read together, could indicate that legalizing recreational marijuana “could lead to a slight increase in minor accidents that don’t prove fatal.”

Dangers of Smoking Marijuana and Driving

This is not to say that using marijuana and then getting behind the wheel of a car is a good idea by any means. Using marijuana has been shown to have debilitating effects and elevate the risk of causing a car crash. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has expressed reservations about legalizing marijuana because of its demonstrated intoxicating effects. According to the NIDA, driving under the influence of marijuana and other drugs can:

  • Decrease a driver’s focus and ability to pay attention to the road and task of driving;
  • Decrease a driver’s ability to react to changes in weather, road, and traffic conditions; and
  • Decrease a driver’s perception and understanding of road lines, signs, and signals.

While there is no direct correlation between the legalization of marijuana and increased traffic injuries, the potential consequences of being involved in an accident are significant. Injuries that may be caused by a California car accident include broken bones, lacerations, traumatic brain injury, burns, concussions, whiplash, loss of limbs, paralysis, and even death.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana and Claims of Negligence

If you have been injured in a California car accident by a driver who is under the influence of marijuana, alcohol, or other drugs you should contact an experienced California attorney immediately. When you get behind the wheel of a car you owe a duty of care to others on the road. This means that you must exercise reasonable care and caution when sharing the road.

Driving under the influence of drugs – including marijuana – is against the law and a breach of this duty. If you are injured by a driver who is under the influence of marijuana you may be able to file a claim for damages based on that driver’s negligence. An experienced California personal injury attorney will be able to help you determine who is at fault and what damages you may be able to recover for your injuries.

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