Governor Charlie Baker continues his push to crack down on drugged driving laws in Massachusetts. Baker’s legislation attempts to close many of the loopholes that allow motorists, such as the driver that killed State Trooper Thomas Cardy, to go free of penalty for driving under the influence of certain drugs and causing injury or death. Baker’s proposal, originally filed in 2019, has been refiled and named after Cardy, who was killed in 2016 during a traffic stop by a medical marijuana patient who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but acquitted of driving under the influence of cannabis. As a personal injury lawyer in Massachusetts and Rhode Island for over 20 years, Attorney David Tapalian sees a tragic number of car accidents caused by drivers impaired by alcohol and other substances. While breathalyzers provide reliable blood alcohol content (BAC) levels, accurately measuring the level of other substances, like marijuana, in a driver’s body proves to be more difficult, and controversial.
Drugged Driving Bill in MA
The aim of Governor Baker’s drugged driving bill is to close gaps in the current laws that can allow motorists impaired by drugs such as cannabis, prescription medications, and other drugs, to be held unaccountable for these offenses. The proposal seeks to expand the 12-step drug recognition expert (DRE) training for police officers to identify whether a person is impaired and if so, by what substances. The DRE process includes specialized observations of the motorist as well as measurements of heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure. The bill would also subject suspected drivers to a blood test for THC (the primary active ingredient in marijuana) and require Massachusetts courts to recognize the DRE trained police officers as experts.
Does Legal Marijuana Use Result in More Auto Accidents?
While marijuana usage was made legal in Massachusetts in 2016, whether or not its legalization has contributed to an increase in auto accidents is a hot topic. Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that auto accidents increased in states that eased up on their recreational marijuana laws compared to those states where marijuana remained illegal. (The particular studies cited did not involve Massachusetts.) Accidents involving injuries rose by 6% while those that ended up in death also rose by 4%. The amount of accident claims filed following the legalization of marijuana has increased in the range of 3% to 21% depending on the state in question. When it comes to whether the actual ingestion of marijuana is causing this increase, the results are more mixed. Studies found that those under the influence of marijuana have slower reaction times and are more likely to drive into other lanes unintentionally, while other studies found that marijuana users often drive slower and remain farther away from other vehicles.
The difficulty in conclusively analyzing the effects of marijuana on drivers is that there are significantly less reliable drug tests performed on the road compared to alcohol exams. When a driver is using both substances, it can be difficult to pinpoint which one is causing the symptoms in question. In addition, the reliability of blood tests for THC has been taken into question by those opposed by the bill.
Marijuana Use & Car Accidents
Still debatable, one potential theory for why legal recreational marijuana use has increased accident rates in some states is that people are more likely to drink alcohol at the same time as using drugs such as marijuana, but future studies are needed to test this theory. An analysis based on self-reporting found that joint use of marijuana and alcohol has increased according to the AAA Foundation, which also found those who engaged in both of these activities at the same time were more likely to get behind the wheel of a car and drive recklessly than a driver consuming alcohol only. The analysis also stated that drivers using both substances at once were also 20% more likely to speed and 16% more likely to drive through red lights as opposed to drivers only under the influence of alcohol. They also were 24% more likely to act aggressively on the roadways and 19% more likely to text at the same time as operating their vehicles.
Contact a RI and MA Personal Injury Lawyer for a Free Consultation
Drivers should not operate a motor vehicle under the influence of any type of substance that could impair their driving in any manner, including many OTC medicines and prescription drugs. Anything that affects a driver’s focus and attention increases the risk of a car accident resulting in injury or death to the driver, its passengers, and innocent people. Regardless of the substance, drugs or alcohol, driving impaired by any type of substance, whether legal or illegal, can prove deadly. If a driver operates a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both, and their actions result in injury or death, they may be held liable for their actions. Contact a personal injury attorney in Rhode Island or Massachusetts today if you were injured due to the actions of a driver under the influence of marijuana or alcohol. You may be eligible to seek compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, car repairs, and pain and suffering.
Attorney David Tapalian works with people suffering from injuries in all types of auto accidents, including those where recreational marijuana was involved. As a car accident attorney with over 20 years of experience successfully seeking compensation for his clients, he can help you determine what steps to take following an accident. Attorney Tapalian offers a free consultation to speak with you personally and Tapalian Law does not get paid until we win you money for your case. Licensed to practice in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Florida, we can accommodate you at our offices in Providence, Seekonk, and Fort Lauderdale. To reach a member of our expert legal team, call 401-552-5000 or send us a message.