As a personal injury attorney, many people ask me about marijuana and whether or not it is safe to drive when under the influence of it. Given that I am typically involved in legal cases after an accident, I tend to see what is happening on the road and pay attention to research regarding both safe and dangerous driving. Now that many states are passing laws that legalize marijuana for either recreational or medical use, it is understandable that people would be concerned about whether marijuana users are putting other drivers in danger. The research on this issue is limited considering that marijuana has been entirely illegal until recently. Simultaneously, researchers don’t want to potentially put people in harm’s way by conducting studies in actual driving conditions. With this in mind, most research has been conducted in a lab to find out what the effects of marijuana use are within the body.
This information can then be applied to the skills I know are necessary for being a good driver; with assumptions applied to how someone under the influence may behave on the road. The University of Washington published information regarding some of these studies and one thing they noted was that those under the influence were less likely to have good hand-eye coordination – something important for steering, using your turn signal, etc. Simultaneously both decision-making and reaction times were impaired while under the influence. As a personal injury attorney, I find this to be the most dangerous sign because the ability to react quickly is critical for being a good driver. Every time a person gets behind the wheel, decisions must be made regarding when to slow down, stop, turn, move out of the way, etc. If a driver is unable to process that information quickly, make a fast decision and respond accordingly, both themselves and other drivers will be at risk for a collision. All it takes is the inability to stop in time during rush hmy traffic, and a fender bender will have occurred. Accident rates are already high in sober drivers, let alone those under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that in accidents where the THC levels in drivers were tested, those that had used marijuana were three to seven times more likely to have caused the accident. Again, while this data is limited, there are clear indications that marijuana use is not a safe habit when combined with driving, regardless of whether or not it is legal, and regardless of whether the pro-marijuana lobby says it’s safe. As the Executive Director of the Governors Highway Safety Administration said, “any time a driver has their ability impaired, it is a problem.”
I firmly believe, as a personal injury attorney, that the only way to reduce the risk of an accident is to drive while alert and clear headed. This means not driving after drinking alcohol, using drugs of any kind, or being overly tired. All of these things can contribute to physical and mental impairments that can lead to an accident. With that in mind, call a designated driver and practice defensive driving if you see someone that may be driving while under the influence.