Recreational Marijuana and Auto Collisions

What is the effect of legalization of marijuana on automobile accidents? Following the 2016 passage of a California law that allows adults to recreationally use marijuana, the Golden State is preparing to get lit, legally speaking.

And while there will no doubt be plenty of discussion about ordinances and rules related to how businesses dispense the newly legal herb, a process of adjustment that is expected to continue into 2018, there will also be discussions about marijuana use and automobile accidents.

Legal Pot & Car Accidents

To be clear, the purpose of this post isn’t to demonize marijuana, which was approved for recreational use by the state’s voters at a healthy margin of 56 to 44 percent. Rather, it’s to point out that auto accident claims involving legal marijuana use appear to be on the rise.

While there has been decades of research and discussion about the dangers of drinking and driving, the dangers of marijuana use and highway safety are still largely unknown. A recent article published in the National Law Review examined a study conducted by the Highway Loss Data Institute. The study specifically looked at car crash claims linked to legal recreational marijuana.

Data was taken from claims made in Colorado, Washington and Oregon — three states that recently legalized marijuana. Recreational pot sales began in Colorado in January 2014, with Washington following suit six months later. Legalized recreational pot sales began in Oregon in October 2015.

The study found that collision claims increased 2.7 percent in these states in the years following legalization of recreational marijuana.

Marijuana & Auto Accidents | Personal Injury Lawyer

Speaking to the Associated Press, Institute Senior Vice President Matt Moore said, “We believe that the data is saying that crash risk has increased in these states and those crash risks are associated with the legalization of marijuana,” Moore said.

It’s important to note however that one study shouldn’t be viewed as conclusive. There are those who argue that the subject of Institute’s study, while worthy of exploration, should not be viewed as the final word on recreational marijuana and highway safety.

Mason Tvert, a legalization advocate with the Marihuana Policy Project also spoke to the Associated Press.

“The study raises more questions than it provides answers, and it’s an area that would surely receive more study, and deservedly so,” he said.

But while more research will need to be conducted on the issue of pot and driving, California law requires citizens to adhere to certain standards when operating a car.


Negligence & California Driving Law

California Civil Jury Instructions §700 state that a person must use reasonable care when driving a vehicle. Furthermore, failure to use care while driving a vehicle constitutes negligence. It’s important to bear in mind that this standard can include negligent conduct that isn’t covered by existing statutes.

Whether legal recreational marijuana is directly responsible for the increase in auto accidents in the above-mentioned states, or merely a contributing factor, mind- altering drugs have an effect on a person’s motor skills as well as a person’s ability to safely drive a car. If a civil suit is brought against a person who is believed to have been the cause of a motor accident, and it is found that individual was negligent in causing the accident, the plaintiff could be eligible for economic and non-economic damages. In some rare cases, punitive damages may be awarded.

It would be very unlikely for a driver involved in a minor accident while under the influence of marijuana to be forced to pay punitive damages. However, as the National Law Review points out, a driver who has a history of causing accidents while impaired could be compelled to pay both compensatory and punitive damages.

As California relaxes its rules on marijuana use, there are still a lot of unknowns about how regulations will be enforced. But as with all things in life, common sense goes a long way. Avoiding driving while using marijuana will reduce the likelihood of an accident, and personal injury, as well as limit your exposure to liability. For more information, contact our San Diego personal injury attorney.


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