By John Byrnes

Just as alcohol and prescription medications can impede a driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle responsibly, marijuana use can have similar effects. A recent study has shown that fatalities from auto accidents involving marijuana have tripled over the last 10 years.

There are very well defined and strict laws regarding the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. The dangers of drunk driving are widely known and accepted. Drunk drivers are liable for accidents directly attributable to their negligence.

The use of recreational drugs, such as marijuana, can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. Complicating the issue is the recent acceptance of marijuana use for medical purposes. Many states and the District of Columbia support the use of medical marijuana. Recreational use is also legal in a growing number of states. Interestingly, any marijuana use or possession is still prohibited under federal law.

A recent study has found that roughly one out of nine drivers in fatal car accidents would test positive for marijuana use. It has been predicted in a few years, alcohol will account for less than 50% of the impaired driving deaths for the first time. Being under the influence of alcohol increases the likelihood of being involved in a fatal accident is increased by 1,200%. Those under the influence of marijuana and alcohol are 2,300% more likely to be involved in a fatal accident.

Identifying a driver under the influence of marijuana is challenging for the police. While the standard field sobriety tests can catch drunk drivers about 88% of the time, only about 30% of those under the influence of marijuana fail the same tests. While field sobriety tests are just as effective at catching both experienced and inexperienced drinkers, those with the most experience using marijuana test to pass the tests at a higher rate.

Currently, randomly tested drivers on weekend evenings are twice as likely to test positive for alcohol as for marijuana (12% vs. 6%). This number is expected to rise with the current changes in the laws around marijuana use and possession. Many law enforcement and legal experts believe that marijuana users are less likely than alcohol users to under the dangers of driving under the influence. Many polled people have stated they don’t believe DUI laws apply to marijuana use.

Marijuana use definitely contributes to an increased likelihood of an accident but at a lower level than drinking. The differences may be due to the deficits that are created. Drunk drivers often increase their speed and overestimate their driving abilities in the moment. Those using marijuana tend to slow down and drive with excessive caution.

The active ingredient in marijuana, THC, can only be measured via a blood or urine test. Urine tests cannot test for THC directly; only the metabolic products can be quantified. It is possible for a user to test positive weeks later. Depending on the state, this is sufficient for an arrest.

If you or a love one has been injured in an automobile accident, it’s possible the other driver was under the influence of alcohol or marijuana. Contacting a personal injury attorney after any accident that resulted in injury or death is a wise decision.

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