High times in Whatcom County leads to more vehicle crashes

Though researchers haven't been able to pinpoint an exact connection between marijuana usage and the increased frequency of car crashes, a recent study from the HLDI shows there is a bump in the number of wrecks in states like ours. Washington, and other states that have legalized recreational usage show a 3 percent higher collision frequency as seen in insurance claims since 2014. However, the debate still rages on just how dangerous high driving truly is.

Road simulation and on-road studies show marijuana can affect a driver's ability to safety operate a vehicle. But it's been hard for researchers to link pot usage to actual auto accidents. The studies have dramatically conflicting data, from some that find a doubled crash risk with high drivers, and a large-scale federal case-control study that failed to find any link between marijuana use and crashes. Studies on the effects of legalizing marijuana for medical use also have been inconclusive.

The tie between marijuana and traffic accidents is even more elusive. For example, although a 2010 study in the journal Public Health Reports found that 11 percent of drivers killed in accidents had taken at least one drug, the link to marijuana is unclear. Those drivers were not necessarily using marijuana, and the drug can show up in a user's blood test days after the high has ended. This stokes the debate between marijuana and safety advocates.

There's no way to measure marijuana with a breathalyzer, so researchers use blood tests, but blood concentrations of marijuana's active ingredient THC can stay persistently high in chronic users. In traffic-fatality studies, any amount of THC in the blood, no matter how tiny, counts as a positive drug test. Another survey found that marijuana users are more likely to be involved in accidents, but that the increased risk may be due in part because marijuana users are more likely to be in groups at higher risk of crashes. In particular, marijuana users are more likely to be young men – a group already at high risk.

What's more, some studies suggest marijuana users can effectively compensate for their impairments. 

Studies show people who are drunk have drastic, obvious impairments behind the wheel. They are physically impaired, and they don't really think they're physically impaired. They drive faster, they'll follow cars at closer distances, they'll make rash, last-minute decisions. It's easy to see how drunk drivers are dangerous drivers, and the data just piles up behind this intuition.

By contrast, people who are slightly stoned may be more risk-averse and overestimate their impairment. For instance, people who have smoked just a third of a joint will say they are impaired, even when driving tests show no such effects, according to a 1993 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. High drivers tend to drive slower, and add distance between their vehicle and the one they follow behind. 

Bottom line is, if you've been hit by a driver you suspect was high, you need an experienced personal injury and car accident attorney to help you with your claim. Bill Coats Law specializes in car accidents, and has a proven track record particular to drunk and high driving crashes. Call us today to help you and your loved ones reclaim your life after a debilitating car accident in Bellingham or Whatcom County.

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