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The Young and the Reckless

Colorado has seen a spike in driving fatalities in which marijuana alone was involved. Your Denver accident attorney notes that the increase started in 2009 when Colorado legalized medical marijuana dispensaries.  Of 24,000 driving fatalities in 2010, marijuana contributed to 12 percent, a three-fold increase from 2000. 

Even more disturbing is the emerging body of data showing that drugged driving is more common among young people.  For example, one in eight high school seniors who responded to a 2010 survey admitted to driving after smoking marijuana.  In addition, nearly one-fourth of drivers killed in drug-related car crashes are under 25, and nearly half of fatally injured drivers who tested positive for marijuana were under 25.  

To further complicate matters, many accidents are caused by people using marijuana in conjunction with other drugs or alcohol.  A National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) study found 4 percent of daytime drivers high and 6 percent of nighttime drivers high, with the nighttime number doubling on weekends.

A National Strategy 

To combat the growing problem of drugged driving, the federal Office of National Drug  Control Policy has set a goal of reducing drugged driving by 10 percent.  The idea is to make the prevention of drugged driving a national priority on par with the prevention of drunk driving, which has declined by an estimated one-half since 1980 and the campaign by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD.  The strategy against drugged-driving is as follows: (1) encouraging states to adopt “per se” laws prohibiting any trace of a drug in a driver’s system while in control of a vehicle, even absent other evidence of impairment; (2) collecting further data on drugged driving; (3) increasing public education regarding drugged driving and its consequences; (4) training of law enforcement to identify drugged drivers; and (5) development of standardized screening methods for labs to use in detecting the presence of drugs.

The Debate 

The problem with any strategy that relies on data linking marijuana with accident fatalities is that unlike alcohol, marijuana’s active ingredient, TCH, can linger in someone’s system for days and even weeks after inhalation or ingestion.  This makes it very difficult to analyze data of so-called “drugged-drivers” in terms of cause and effect since the presence of TCH in a driver’s system alone cannot determine impairment and causation of an accident. 

The reason that adoption of “per se” laws is encouraged is because to date, there is no TCH limit or amount at which experts agree a person will be impaired while driving.  This may soon change, however.  A three-year study by the NHTSA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse was completed in November of this year.  The study used a sophisticated simulator at The University of Iowa to determine the impact of inhaled marijuana on all aspects of driving performance–decision making, motor control, risk taking behavior and divided-attention tasks.  The results of this study will hopefully produce a level of THC that can be used in drugged-driving laws.

Have Questions? Contact Our Office Today

If you have been the victim of a car accident where marijuana was involved, or if you would like more information on drugged driving dangers and laws, contact Jordan Levine at the Levine Law Firm.

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