Massachusetts is now among 10 states that have legalized cannabis for recreational use. While this is good news for many residents, it raises safety concerns when it comes to users getting behind the wheel.
Cannabis, like alcohol, can cause impairments that can make driving dangerous. The tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis can cause delays in reaction time, as well as inhibit drivers' judgment, motor coordination, concentration, and ability to perceive time and distance. Drivers under the influence of cannabis are susceptible to distraction, falling asleep behind the wheel, and failing to read signs and signals.
How prevalent is driving while high?
Researchers from the University of Michigan Addiction Center studied the prevalence of cannabis impairment and driving among patients who used medical marijuana and sought to obtain certification or recertification in 2014 and 2015.
When asked about their driving habits within the past six months, about one in five respondents reported driving while under the influence of cannabis. In addition, 56 percent of respondents said they got behind the wheel within two hours of using cannabis. Among those who admitted to driving under the influence, 51 percent admitted to being mildly high and 21 percent admitted to being very high.
Traffic deaths spike in states with legal cannabis
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), road deaths temporarily increased by one additional fatality per one million people in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington after the three states legalized marijuana.
In addition, neighboring states experienced 170 more fatalities than usual within the six months after cannabis become legal. The traffic fatality rates then began to dip after a year in those states. The IIHS suggests inexperienced use of cannabis may be a factor in the temporary spike in traffic fatalities.
Unlike the states in the IIHS study, Massachusetts didn't see a spike in road deaths. In fact, there were 350 fatalities in 2017. This marked a slight decrease from 2016, which saw 389 deaths. Recreational cannabis become officially legal in December 2016, but there is no evidence that it was a factor in the greater number of traffic fatalities for that year.
What we do know is, mixing cannabis use with driving is a dangerous combination, but determining if a driver was high at the time of a crash may be difficult. Blood tests are ineffective, as THC can remain in a user's system for week's after cannabis use. There may be other tell-tale signs, such as bloodshot eyes, the smell of marijuana, and visible impairment.
If you or a loved one was injured in a crash with a driver who was under the influence of cannabis, it's best to speak to an experienced Massachusetts auto accident attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone today to schedule your free case evaluation.