Yes, DUIs have increased as a result of legalized marijuana. However, the problem is that there is no way to easily quantify how much marijuana is in somebody’s system and states are struggling with the rise in cases of individuals driving “stoned” or “high” and Florida is no exception.
There is not a National definition for marijuana-impaired driving and law enforcement agencies lack the tools to catch people driving high. Car crashes in Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, soared by 10% as law enforcement and regulators struggled to define ‘driving under the influence’ of marijuana.
A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) in Washington (where marijuana is legal under state law) showed that more drivers involved in deadly accidents had smoked or consumed marijuana within hours before the crash. Other research revealed a connection between marijuana sales and an increase in insurance collision claims throughout Oregon, Washington, and Colorado.
These states saw a combined 5.2% increase in the rate of police-reported crashes after legalizing recreational marijuana, compared with neighboring states where such sales are illegal, according to data compiled and analyzed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Will Legalized Marijuana Increase My Insurance Rates?
Possibly, yes. Auto-insurance collision claims in the three states have also increased a combined 6% since legalization, compared with neighboring western states without legal weed, the Highway Loss Data Institute found. Analysts controlled for variables such as driver population, car model, weather, and driving environment.
While auto insurers typically use DUI information to set prices, the available data generally doesn’t distinguish what substance was involved. Until it does, marijuana use or the fact someone lives in an area where pot is legal won’t affect rates. But anytime insurance companies can legally increase rates, expect a rate increase.
What’s the Most Dangerous Type of Car Accident?
‘Drunk driving is still the No. 1 killer on our roads,’ said Helen Witty, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. ‘But drugged driving, as it’s legalized across this country, is a huge, emerging issue.’
Has the Number of Dui Fatalities Increased in States With Legalized Marijuana?
Fortunately, the number of DUI fatalities that rose in states with legalized marijuana has gone back down. Scientists know that drivers who are high have the following tendencies:
- driving at lower speeds,
- limited short-term memory
- decreased hand-eye coordination
- weaker concentration
- difficulty with time and distance
- having more difficulty staying in a lane, and
- slower reaction time in an emergency than drunk drivers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported.
This may explain why reports of accidents and collision claims saw an increase in states where pot is legal, but the fatalities did not necessarily increase as well. Colorado officials have seen a decrease in marijuana-impaired traffic fatalities. About 8% of all traffic fatalities tested positive for five nanograms of THC in 2017, down from about 12% in 2016, according to the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice. That’s the blood-THC level at which Colorado drivers can be charged with driving under the influence.
Washington, however, noticed a spike in the number of fatally injured drivers who had the chemical in their blood after recreational sales started in 2014. The number of drivers involved in fatal crashes there who tested positive for any THC approximately doubled from 2010-2014, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission said.
How Does Marijuana Impair a Driver?
Police offers may use a Breathalyzer to confirm whether a driver’s blood-alcohol level, known as ‘BAC’, is above the federal legal limit of .08%. Five states have limits for THC, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, but there’s no scientifically accepted method of testing for impairment.
That’s because marijuana and alcohol affect the body differently.
Does the Presence of Marijuana in the Blood Indicate Impairment?
Unlike alcohol, the presence of marijuana in the blood doesn’t necessarily indicate impairment to drive, according to Staci Hoff, the Research Director at the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. Also, THC can all but disappear from the bloodstream in as little as half an hour, making it difficult to capture evidence that a person is too high to drive.
How Hard Is It to Prosecute a Driver Impaired on Marijuana?
The rises in pot-related injuries and deaths on the road have caught Congress and federal regulators off guard as states with legalized marijuana seek answers. Unlike with alcohol, scientifically there’s neither a proven definition of ‘marijuana-impaired driving’. Also, THC-detection technologies are still in development and have a long way to go before they will be effective.
In Washington, state prosecutors are seeing more cases involving marijuana and driving because cannabis is now more accessible to the public. This leads to toxicology labs being overwhelmed with blood tests for marijuana DUI cases and creating a backlog of about 14 months instead of 30 days to turn around results.
‘The biggest challenge is a lack of reliable field tests to establish impairment,’ said Moses Garcia, a traffic safety resource prosecutor. Throughout the state of Washington, law enforcement officers called Drug Recognition Experts, or DREs, serve as the main force to crack down on marijuana-impaired driving. DREs go through two weeks of training in order to learn which drugs impair a driver. In 2018, DREs found about 30% of people that they screened were impaired by pot. This makes it the most-identified drug category in the United States.
If you have been injured by a drunk or impaired driver, call Tampa DUI Injury Lawyer Martin Hernandez at 813-229-5353.