Marijuana Car Accident Statistics In California

Published on 03/28/2023 by Monica Burneikis

California’s legalization of marijuana (cannabis) seems to have impacted the rates of accidents and fatal crashes involving drivers under the influence of the drug. Victims of car accidents involving a driver who is high or under the influence of cannabis while driving need competent professional representation as they navigate the complexities involved in a DUI case.

Car Accident Statistics Increased After The Legalization Of Marijuana In California

California’s Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) maintains an updated page - including statistics - entitled Drug Impaired Driving: DUI Doesn’t Just Mean Booze. This is an excellent page to review, especially if you have teen or young adult drivers under your care.

Just because marijuana has been legalized does not mean it is safe to use marijuana and drive. Nor does it mean that those under the influence are immune from DUI laws. Those who are under the influence of any amount of marijuana should not operate a motor vehicle and should use a designated driver.

If a driver who has used marijuana is involved in an accident, even if they are not considered “at fault,” proof that they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs can still result in the imposition of harsh penalties. Here are some of the most recent statistics about marijuana-related car accidents and other data on drug-impaired driving and DUIs.

  • 42% of all drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes, who were tested, tested positive for legal and/or illegal drugs.
  • People who drive immediately after using marijuana may increase their risk of getting into a crash by 25 to 35 percent. These rates increase if marijuana is ingested in edible form rather than smoked.
  • The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (“JSAD”) states that after the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults 21 years and older, there was a “5% increase in injury crash rates following legalization and a 1% increase after retail sales began.”
  • Legalization of the recreational use of marijuana and the subsequent onset of retail sales in five U.S. states was, on average, associated with a 5.8% increase in injury crash rates and a 4.1% increase in fatal crash rates.
  • There is no difference between driving under the influence of medically-prescribed marijuana and recreational marijuana. As with other prescription drugs containing warnings about not operating motor vehicles, nobody should drive while under the influence of cannabis.

Why Does Being High Increase Car Accident Risk?

Many marijuana users feel that while they would never drive drunk, there is no risk of driving while under the influence of marijuana because it does not affect the brain in the same ways that as alcohol. This is in fact false. Current data establishes a direct correlation between the legalization of recreational cannabis and over-the-counter sales with both higher crash rates and higher incidences of crash-related fatalities.

Marijuana slows reaction times

While alcohol tends to lead to an increase in reckless driving behavior, both alcohol and marijuana slow down reaction times. Studies also show that being under the influence of marijuana - which compromises the area of the brain that controls coordination, movement and balance - also negatively impacts a person’s perception of time, speed and attentiveness to the road.

Being under the influence of marijuana may increase reckless behavior

While research shows that being high typically results in driving too slow, or in a driver being ultra-cautious - sometimes to a fault - there are exceptional situations when this is not the case, such as when cannabis is mixed with other substances like alcohol or other recreational drugs. In these situations, the combination of marijuana and alcohol or other drugs can cause a person to behave - and drive - recklessly.

Having larger amounts of cannabis in the bloodstream is linked to reckless driving behaviors such as:

The effects of THC are the greatest in the first 30 to 45 minutes after inhalation

The effects of marijuana on the brain are the most dramatic in the first 30 to 45 minutes after inhaling. If you ingest marijuana, these times are extended due to the body’s digestive processes. This discrepancy in reaction time is one of the reasons why it is more difficult to prove  that marijuana is the cause of an accident.

What To Do If You Suspect A Driver Is Under The Influence Of Marijuana

Contact the police and share your suspicions immediately after you are involved an accident and suspect - or know - the driver was under the influence of marijuana. Proving a person is under the influence of marijuana can be tricky because the drug remains in the system longer than other substances. As a result, someone that used marijuana at some point in the recent past may not be experiencing the effects of the drug at the time they were driving.

Further complicating matters is that there is no legal limit of blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) for marijuana yet. For example, alcohol is processed by the body very quickly, so California has a legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of .08 for drivers 21 years old or more. Drivers under 21 are considered under the influence with a BAC of .01 or higher. Marijuana is different because it can last in the bloodstream for up to 90 days after use. Also, because chemical tests for THC are not sufficiently reliable, and because experts cannot agree on how much it takes to impair driving to a dangerous degree, California has not yet adopted a BAC level for driving with THC in your system. This makes it harder to prove that the person responsible for your accident was driving under the influence of marijuana when the accident occurred.

Requesting that drivers provide blood and urine samples may be essential to proving marijuana was a cause of your accident. With that said, you should always consult with a personal injury attorney to ensure your case is facilitated in a way that honors your best interests.

Burneikis Law Can Help If You've Been Involved In An Accident With a DUI Driver

Were you involved in an accident involving a driver under the influence of marijuana or another substance? Contact Burneikis Law and schedule a consultation. We will discuss your case and determine what steps you should take to move forward with the insurance companies or others to make sure your rights are protected and that the at-fault driver’s intoxication is not swept under the rug. Contact us to get started.

Monica Burneikis - Oakland Personal Injury Attorney
Monica Burneikis has been an accident and personal injury lawyer for over 15 years. She knows what it takes to fight with insurance companies in order to obtain maximum compensation for injury victims and their families.
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