Are High Drivers Creating a Hazard on Public Roads?

In 2023, both Ohio and Minnesota legalized recreational marijuana use. This means that 24 states, as well as Washington D.C. and Guam, now allow the recreational use of cannabis

And with a big election season coming up, no doubt there will be more proposed legalization laws in other states given that for adults ages 19-50, marijuana use was at an all-time high in 2022.

While marijuana laws are changing at a rapid pace across all 50 states, it’s important to understand and respect the current rules here in Louisiana. If the marijuana issue comes up in the near future, one of the biggest hurdles to legalization is the complicated matter of driving while high. Comprehensive studies analyzing the effects of driving under the influence of marijuana have only recently been prioritized as legalization spreads, but we still have much to learn.

What the Research Currently Shows About Driving While High

Research shows that marijuana use before or during driving impairs motor skills, lane tracking and cognitive functions, as well as a driver’s ability to multitask. One review found evidence that 20% to 30% of crashes involving marijuana occurred because of marijuana use. Another review argued that someone driving under the influence of marijuana is 1.65 times more likely to be responsible for a fatal accident. Marijuana users are also more likely to be involved in car crashes

Where Questions Remain on This Increasingly Complex Issue

However, the findings from these studies underscore the complexity of this issue; Measuring impairment in a person using marijuana isn’t comparable to blood alcohol concentration. “Most psychoactive drugs are chemically complex molecules, whose absorption, action and elimination from the body are difficult to predict,” says NHTSA, “and considerable differences exist between individuals with regard to the rates at which these processes occur. Alcohol, in comparison, is more predictable.” Some marijuana users can have measurable amounts of THC in their bodies days or even weeks after using the drug, long after any psychoactive effects remain. And while there are many ways to quickly and effectively test a person’s blood alcohol level, so far, there are no such technologies available for testing blood THC levels.

The uncertainty surrounding the intoxicating effects of marijuana is reflected in the patchwork of state laws that define driving “under the influence” of drugs. Some states follow a zero-tolerance standard, making it illegal to have any presence of THC or other illicit drugs in your body while driving. Others set a legal THC limit expressed in nanograms (one-billionth of a gram) per milliliter of blood. In others, impairment is inferred based on the circumstances rather than defined by blood THC levels.

More Drivers Are Testing Positive for Marijuana Creating a Hazard on the Roads

Last year, a 25-year-old driver with marijuana in his system misjudged his speed while approaching an exit ramp on a Bronx highway and crashed into a nearby house. The force of the crash ejected him from the car, which proved fatal.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found in a recent study that about 26% of drivers who were seriously injured or died during a car crash had active THC in their system. This test shows how dangerous it can be to drive while high and the consequences for those on public roads.

Nightmare scenarios like these are precisely what safety advocates predict will become commonplace on our nation’s roads as the list of states legalizing marijuana for recreational use continues to grow.

What’s Next for Understanding How Marijuana Affects Driving

There’s still a lot to learn about the effects of driving under the influence of marijuana. 

The science of intoxication surrounding marijuana is different from that of alcohol and may demand a more nuanced response by policymakers and law enforcement. 

This year there may be a federal requirement that all new passenger vehicles be equipped with impaired driving prevention technology. 

If implemented, the systems would be able to detect blood alcohol content and monitor driving with cameras and sensors. In years to come, the technology could also detect drugged, drowsy, or distracted driving as well, which could save thousands of lives every year. 
If you have been the victim of a crash caused by a driver impaired by marijuana and you wish to discuss the specifics of your case in a free consultation with an experienced  personal injury lawyer, please contact us today.