Washington Fatal Car Accidents Involving Marijuana On The Rise

Understanding how marijuana affects a driver’s ability to safely control their vehicle is a developing science, with the cultivated substance only being legalized recently in several states. In an effort to advance their studies, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has taken a look at Washington State, where there is troubling news about marijuana use and fatal car accidents.

According to newly released and analyzed data, fatal car accidents in Washington in the year 2013 involved someone who had used marijuana recently in 8% of all incidents. After recreational marijuana was legalized in 2014, that percentage shot up to 17%. The question that must be answered now, and that require further study, is: “Is marijuana so debilitating that it is the root cause of these crashes?”


Finding out if someone is intoxicated can be as simple as having them blow into a breathalyzer and producing a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level number. Finding out if someone is impaired by marijuana is a different sort of procedure altogether. Discovering how much a person’s body has been influenced by marijuana requires a blood test, which may not require a warrant due to a new Supreme Court ruling and needs hours to complete. Levels of THC, which is the chemical compound in marijuana that is attributed to causing debilitation in the user, can sharply decline during the waiting period between arrest and actually conducting a blood test.

Additionally, the AAA study learned that THC affects each person differently. Someone who has strikingly high levels of THC in their body could have better reaction times and motor control than another person with very little THC at all. Due to the inconsistency of influence, legislation to control and penalize marijuana use before driving would likely have to be blanketed and ban all use of marijuana before driving a car. Since many people use marijuana for medical uses, this may not be possible, or else they could be restricted from traveling outside their homes for necessary errands.


There are many groups opposed to the AAA’s findings. The National Cannabis Industry Association, for one, notes that correlation is not causation. They argue that the study has only found that more people are using marijuana in Washington since the drug was partially legalized, an easily-predicted result. Whether or not THC is impairing drivers, they state, has yet to be seen with any solid, empirical evidence.


If it can be shown that marijuana use does in fact cause significant impairment to drivers, it could be a game-changer for people filing car accident claims. Liability for a collision placed upon a driver would likely increase if it was found that they had used marijuana and other cannabis products shortly before the crash. At King Law, we understand how important it is to determine fair liability after a collision, and we always do what we can to take care of our clients. If you have been hit by another driver and suspect intoxication or impairment was the cause, contact our Rochester personal injury lawyer today to get an understanding of your legal options and rights as an injured individual.


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