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Marijuana and Driving: When It’s Considered DUI

In November 2012, Washington State legalized the use of recreational marijuana for adults age 21 and older, with legal sales beginning in July 2014. With the passage of the law, the DUI laws of the state were amended to include a legal limit for the amount of THC in a person’s blood if they are driving.

When driving, the THC levels in a person’s blood must be below 5 ng/mL; anything above this point is considered “per se” levels of intoxication and no additional evidence is required to prosecute for a DUI conviction. While using marijuana might be legal in some states, driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal in every state.

Marijuana’s Effect On Driving Ability

Marijuana is no longer only smoked like it was in days past. Because it is a legal recreational drug, it is vaped, eaten, chewed, dabbed, and drunk – often in much higher concentration than the typical joint. The effects on individuals and the ability to drive safely continues to be an issue that needs additional focus.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), research shows marijuana impairs judgment of time and distance, slows reaction time, and decreases coordination. In fact, research indicates a high correlation between THC levels and impaired driving abilities. Other studies have shown that marijuana use can cause drivers to increase lane weaving, have a poor reaction time, and have “altered attention to the road.”

Often individuals use alcohol in conjunction with marijuana, causing additional impairment and negative effects. While the effects of marijuana on driving ability is still under debate by some in the field, the negative effects of alcohol use is well-acknowledged; furthermore, when alcohol and marijuana are combined, the risks of traffic collisions increases significantly, especially when compared to either drug being used on its own.

The Effects of Legalization on Crash Statistics

  • A 2016 survey of drivers in Washington and Colorado found that, among those who reported any marijuana use in the past month, 43.6% reported driving under the influence of marijuana in the previous year, and nearly 24% had driven within one hour of using marijuana on at least five occasions in the past month.
  • The number of THC-drivers in one Washington study increased from 14% just prior to July 2014 to almost 22% within 12 months of the new law being enacted.
  • In Colorado, marijuana-related traffic fatalities increased 48% in the three years immediately following the legalization of marijuana, compared to the three years prior to legalization.
  • Several studies found that use of marijuana significantly increased the risk of being in a crash – in some cases, the risk doubled with marijuana use.
  • Drivers involved in crashes who had THC in their blood were found to be between 3 and 7 times more likely to be responsible for the collisions than those who had no measurable alcohol or drugs in their system.
  • In 2016, 41.1% of fatally-injured drivers who tested positive for drugs had some form of marijuana in their system; 75% of these drivers tested positive for THC. This is in comparison to 2006, where only 34.5% tested positive for marijuana use.

Liability In an Auto Accident

While the exact effects of marijuana use on driving may still be under debate, most studies agree that driving while under the influence of marijuana is a poor choice – one that can be deadly for others, especially when combined with any other drugs or alcohol.

If you or your loved one has been injured in an auto accident, and you suspect the at-fault driver was under the influence of marijuana or another drug, contact a personal injury attorney for a consultation. It is important that individuals who choose to drive under the influence are held responsible for their actions and the effects of those actions on the lives of others.

The auto accident attorneys at Ritchie Reiersen Law have years of experience helping protect the rights of individuals who have been injured due to poor choices of others. A car accident can be devastating to experience, and you deserve to have someone on your side to ensure justice prevails and you are fully compensated for the injuries you have endured. To schedule a free consultation, visit us here.

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