Since marijuana became legal in July 2017, traffic deaths are down over 10 percent, according to The Nevada Department of Public Safety. Specifically, 277 people died in automobile crashes during the first 11 months of non-criminal recreational marijuana sales as opposed to 310 in the 11 months preceding the new law coming into effect.
Nevada has joined 30 other states in legalizing some form of marijuana, and it is now one of eight states that allows for recreational marijuana to be sold through dispensaries. While it is legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana flower, a driver can be pulled over and considered impaired if he or she is found to have anything more than two Nano grams of active THC in their system.
Thus this new norm in Nevada still has both law enforcement and the general public wondering how legalized pot use will affect traffic accidents and fatalities. Although this preliminary data suggests a limited impact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) drew a different conclusion. Their analytics for vehicle collisions filed between January 2012 and October 2016 showed higher collision claim frequencies in states that had legalized marijuana—three percent greater than otherwise anticipated.
According to the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse studies have established a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability.
Additionally, two large European studies found stoned drivers were twice more likely to be responsible for fatal accident than sober drivers.
Many of these numbers–at this early stage of legalization–are nearly anecdotal as there are few truly effective methods of testing for marijuana use at roadside traffic stops. Unfortunately, the drug’s primary ingredient THC can be detected for days or even weeks after ingestion.
However, that feeling of being “high” is a distinct sensation and its physical ramifications are indisputable. After a person ingest marijuana, the drug immediately slows mental judgement, motor coordination, and reaction time, all key components to safe driving. Driving stoned is risky under any circumstances and it is reasonable to suggest people who choose to use pot recreationally or for medical purposes should skip motoring while baked.
Steve is the Managing Shareholder of Steven J. Klearman & Associates, a civil litigation law firm located in Reno, Nevada. He practices primarily in the areas of civil litigation and injury law, and has authored one of the definitive guides to Nevada civil law that is widely used by Nevada judges and attorneys, his book entitled Elements of Nevada Legal Theories.