Legalized Marijuana Linked to Increase in Car Crashes  

photo_9135_20090113-300x225Since the legalization of marijuana movement began in the U.S., health and safety experts have been trying to measure the potential impact it would have on traffic accidents. Without ample past reliable data to go off, much of the results so far have been inconsistent. However, according to a new set of studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Highway Loss Data Institute, an increase of up to 6 percent in the number of highway crashes has been found in four states where the recreational use of marijuana is legalized. As Providence personal injury lawyers, Tapalian Law feels any uptick in car crashes is reason to sit up and take notice. Our car accident lawyers see clients everyday who suffer from serious injuries incurred in an auto accident. While the latest reports cannot yet prove a direct risk caused by the use of marijuana among vehicle operators, there is a rising trend in these states and any upsurge in car crashes is cause for attention. At this time it is a challenge to accurately test drivers to determine if they are under the influence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Without this hard proof, much more research needs to be done to explore marijuana use and its relationship to vehicle crashes. After this Tuesday’s election, 10 states and Washington D.C. have now legalized marijuana for recreational use for adults over the age of 21. Rhode Island has not legalized marijuana for recreational use. Medical marijuana is legalized in 33 states, including Rhode Island.

Results of IIHS Study Linking Legalized Marijuana to Car Crashes

The IIHS studies used police reports and insurance claims to determine auto crashes rose between 5.2% and 6% in states with legalized recreational marijuana, in comparison to neighboring states where marijuana use is illegal. Highway crash data from surrounding states was also compared in an attempt to control for factors like weather and economy. One disturbing find from the study is that while most drivers under the influence of alcohol are driving alone or with other adults, approximately 14% of those confirmed to be using pot had a child in the car. As Providence car accident injury lawyers, this find is very troubling. The IIHS feels this reflects a variance between marijuana and alcohol use and it appears that marijuana use isn’t reserved for evenings and other occasions when adults are more likely to consume alcohol. Experts are uncertain whether this reflects an increase in the use of recreational pot or medical marijuana for pain treatment.  The IIHS is clear however, that there is a “correlation”, a connection, between the rise in crashes once pot became legal, however it is not the same as “causation”, meaning other variables could be involved. One of the difficulties with this study, as with similar reports, is the accuracy in measuring how marijuana use impacts car crashes because law enforcement has a difficult challenge due to the way marijuana works in the body.

How Does Marijuana Impact a Driver?

Multitudes of studies conclude that marijuana causes impairment in every performance area that can be reasonably connected with safe driving. When a person smokes marijuana or ingests it in another form, chemicals enter the body through the bloodstream to the brain followed by the rest of the body. THC, the most powerful chemical in marijuana, is mainly responsible for the “high” the drug gives off. Functions necessary for driving are impaired including motor coordination, visual functions, tracking, and more complex tasks that require divided attention. Studies on the effects of marijuana on reaction time, however, have been contradictory. Marijuana impacts the cognitive process differently than alcohol does and both can be extremely harmful to someone operating a motor vehicle. In fact, using both substances together can multiply the effects of impairment thereby increasing the risk of involvement in a fatal car accident. A driver on the Rhode Island roads who is under the influence of both alcohol and marijuana is an even greater threat to themselves and others than a driver under the influence of either substance alone.

Marijuana Levels Difficult to Measure in Drivers

The effects of marijuana on a driver can be difficult to measure because of the testing method for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, and its validity. If a driver involved in a car crash is suspected of being under the influence of marijuana, how can the police tell? When a police officer suspects a driver is drunk, a simple test can be performed to measure the blood alcohol content (BAC) in the person’s blood. Rhode Island law defines a BAC of .08 or higher as driving while intoxicated (DWI)). If a motorist involved in an accident is suspected of being “high”, there is a different test that measures THC levels. THC levels spike when a person smokes or consumes marijuana in an alternative form. However, unlike BAC levels which drop rapidly as the person sobers up, THC can stay in the body for weeks long after the initial impact of the “high” has gone. Therefore, it is difficult to measure by test alone if the person was impaired at the time of the crash or had used the drug days, or even weeks, ago. The effects of marijuana can be challenging to measure and vary more among individuals than do the effects of alcohol because of tolerance, smoking technique, and varying absorption levels of THC.

Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, it is against the law for a driver to operate a motor vehicle if they have a detectable level of an illicit drug in their body. Repercussions vary depending on the level of the substance found in the body, type of substance, and whether it is a first, or subsequent offense, but may include fines, community service, suspension of driver’s license, educational courses, and imprisonment. Rhode Island has extensive laws concerning driving under the influence of liquor or drugs.

Rhode Island Law Pertaining to Driving Under the Influence of Liquor or Drugs

Contact Tapalian Law if You Have Been Hit by a Drugged Driver in Rhode Island

It is illegal to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Rhode Island. If you have been hurt in a car accident caused by a driver under the influence of marijuana, alcohol, or other drug, contact Rhode Island Personal Injury Attorney David Tapalian to determine your legal rights. Tapalian Law understands that getting hurt in a car crash is a scary experience. In addition to being a trying time emotionally, you may spend time in the hospital resulting in expensive medical bills not covered by insurance as well as out of pocket expenses. Your injuries and recovery may require rehabilitation, physical therapy, and further surgeries down the road. You may lose time from work, resulting in lost wages that make it difficult to support yourself and your family. An experienced injury law firm like Tapalian Law will fight for your legal rights to the compensation you deserve. We have helped countless clients in the Rhode Island area including Providence, East Providence, Cranston, and Pawtucket, as well as Massachusetts clients get on the road to recovery. Call Tapalian Law today for a free consultation of your injury case at


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