An abundance of evidence attests to the danger of drunk driving, but the growing trend toward liberalizing marijuana laws appears to have escalated the public safety threat posed by substance-impaired motorists.  The majority of states now permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes while a growing number of states have gone further by approving marijuana possession and use for recreational purposes.  Cannabis legalization advocates have argued that pot does not affect driving ability the same way as alcohol in response to concerns about a potential increase in drivers impaired by weed.  

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While the impact of legalization efforts on accident rates remained theoretical prior to the push toward legalization, a growing body of data now suggest increased pot use does lead to more vehicle crashes, accident-related injuries, and traffic fatalities.  Though the affects of marijuana on drivers remains an open question, state legalization of retail pot sales and recreational use of the drug generally has resulted in roadways becoming more dangerous.  

As of June 2021, approximately one out of every three states in the U.S. has enacted laws authorizing the use of recreational marijuana.  California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington have all experienced upticks in vehicle accidents caused by cannabis-impaired drivers according to studies conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI).  The retail sale of pot in these five states has been linked to a four percent increase in traffic fatalities and a six percent increase in traffic accident-related injuries.

While these results support the claim from overall crash rates rise when states legalize marijuana for recreational use, other studies make these results harder to interpret.  A different IIHS study of crash victims treated in hospital emergency rooms found that drivers who ingest only cannabis are no more likely to be involved in a crash than other motorists who have not used the drug.  This somewhat perplexing finding reinforces the conclusions of a 2015 study by the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) that found no correlation between a positive test for marijuana and the likelihood that a person would be involved in a collision.

Studies conducted on driving simulators quantify the negative impact of marijuana on a motorist’s driving ability.  Motorists using driving simulators exhibited decreased reaction time, difficulty remaining focused, inability to keep their vehicle in the proper lane, and a proclivity to make errors when confronted with an emergency or problem.  However, the apparently conflicting studies might be explained by another finding from driving simulator studies.  Drivers who ingested marijuana tended to slow down and drive more cautiously.

While both alcohol and marijuana have been shown to impair the physical driving abilities of motorists, the difference in the mental state of drivers from the two substances might explain the apparently inconsistent study results.  Whereas pot-impaired drivers become more cautious, alcohol tends to give motorists an inflated sense of their own driving abilities.  In other words, drivers tend to slow down after using pot while they tend to speed up and take more risks after a night of drinking.

When you are arrested and charged for substance-impaired driving in the state of Florida, you must contact an experienced Florida DUI Defense Attorney for guidance on how to preserve your legal rights and protect your freedoms.  Call Musca Law 24/7 at 1-888-484-5057.