California’s Legalization of Marijuana May Lead to Increase in Motor Vehicle Collisions Caused by Impaired Drivers

All drivers owe others on the road a duty of care to exercise reasonable caution.  When driving, it is negligent to use any substance that impairs your ability to drive.  Alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs affect the ability of drivers to safely operate their vehicles and may cause harm to others on the road. When a driver’s negligence causes an accident and resulting harm, injured victims may hold the driver accountable in a legal claim.

impaired driving crash

California motor vehicle collision claims involving marijuana use by drivers are rising.  Since marijuana has been legalized, it is likely the state will see an increase in car accidents caused by drivers impaired by smoking or ingesting marijuana.  According to a recent insurance study, crash statistics in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado indicate that after legalizing recreational marijuana, there was an increase in the number of car accident claims in those states. After suffering injuries in an accident with a driver impaired by marijuana, victims may recover damages by filing personal injury civil claims against the at-fault drivers.

The study by the Highway Loss Data Institute examined crash statistics both before and after marijuana was legalized in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado. In January 2014, marijuana was legal, recreationally, in Colorado, followed by Oregon and Washington six months later. According to data set forth in the study, there was a 2.7 percent increase in reported vehicle accidents in those three states after the legalization of marijuana.

Critics of the study contended that it presented flawed information because it compared those three states to rural, farming states (Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana).  Since Colorado, Washington, and Oregon have dense population centers, it may have affected the study’s findings. However, the researchers had controlled for the ages of drivers, the number of vehicles on the roads, and other factors.  Clearly, more research is needed to understand the effect of marijuana on auto accidents, but it is evident that driving while impaired by marijuana can lead to injuries or deaths.

Following a car accident involving a reckless driver, including someone who may be under the influence of marijuana, victims may recover punitive damages, in addition to economic and noneconomic damages.  Punitive damages are set forth in California Civil Code § 3294 and make clear that malice is necessary, which is more than simple negligence.  Malicious behavior is willful behavior.  For example, a driver with a history of reckless driving or citations for driving while impaired may be ordered to pay punitive damages if their conduct led to a crash and resulting harm.

At Sharifi Firm, we help injured individuals and their families throughout Southern California following the devastating effects of a motor vehicle collision.  Our car accident attorneys are vigilant about investigating all of the potential causes of an accident and pursuing maximum compensation for our clients.  Holding at-fault drivers accountable, particularly when their driving conduct is egregious, is important.  Let us discuss the details of your claim with you at no cost. Our office can be reached by calling 1-866-422-7222 or contacting us online.

More Blog Posts:

Fatal Pedestrian Accident in Santa Ana Highlights Safety Issues with Particular Intersection, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 19, 2017

California Court Holds Defendant was not an “Affiliate” Entitled to Summary Judgment on Negligence and Premises Liability Claims After Tragic Vehicular Accident, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, March 27, 2017

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