Marijuana use is still illegal in North Carolina even though 18 states legalized it by 2021. But regardless of whether marijuana use is legal, driving while impaired by marijuana is dangerous and illegal.
The Governors’ Highway Safety Administration and National Alliance to Stop Impaired Driving issued a recent report, Cannabis Consumers and Safe Driving: Responsible Use Messaging, which addresses the risk of car accidents from being impaired by marijuana. The report also contains recommendations.
Marijuana use has sharply increased in this country, according to the report. In 2019, 18% of individuals over 11 said that they used cannabis in the previous year. This figure was only 11% in 2002.
The effect of cannabis on driving is still being studied. However, it is clear that cannabis directly impacts parts of the brain associated with safe driving such as paying attention, making decisions and reaction time.
But motorists remain ignorant of these effects on their driving. Ninety-five percent of respondents in a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Study said that driving over the blood alcohol concentration limit for alcohol is very or extremely unsafe. Only 69% of these respondents, however, believe that it is hazardous to drive within 1 hour of cannabis consumption. Even more disturbing, some people believe that cannabis use improves driving.
Role in traffic deaths
Trauma center data indicates that cannabis played a larger part in rising traffic deaths during over the last few years. Thirty-three percent of motorists in deadly accidents had the main psychoactive cannabis compound, tetrahydrocannabinol, in their systems. This was a substantial rise from the 21% reported in previous years.
Also, cannabis was more prevalent than alcohol in deadly accidents involving drivers. It was involved in 33% of crashes compared with 29% involving alcohol.
Drivers have also been impaired from multiple substances. This rose from 18 to 25% over the last 2 years.
The report contained recommendations for state transportation departments:
- Use messaging that cannabis users respect and eliminate outdated or condescending messages.
- Rely on people and institutions trusted and respected by cannabis users instead of government officials acting as messengers.
- Seek dedicated funding for traffic safety programs from cannabis sales revenue in states where marijuana is legal.
- Work with the cannabis industry on messaging and safety measures.
Victims of an accident caused by a marijuana-, drug- or alcohol-impaired driver can suffer catastrophic injuries. These victims or their families may be entitled to compensation. An attorney can assist them with pursuing their rights.