As Washington State gets closer and closer to legalizing marijuana, the fact that the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) found Washington to have one of the highest rates of drugged driving in the country has raised some questions as to what effect that kind of legislation will have on drivers and pedestrians.

Not only is marijuana legal to use as a medicinal pain remedy for various approved illnesses in Washington, but Seattle as a municipality has de-prioritized it for police officers, basically saying to recreational users that it’s okay to use if an officer isn’t around.

In fact, almost every ballot over the past few cycles has marijuana related legislation for voters to give their voice to. Even some politicians can be seen stumping at Hemp Fest, which indicates where the marijuana legislation winds are wafting.

Now this upcoming November ballot has not only a choice for president, but also the option to decriminalize marijuana in Washington and rendering it legal to be packaged and sold to the public as well as being taxed and regulated as such. The Initiative-502, dubbed “New Approach Washington,” is not only expected to inject millions of dollars into the state budget, but also widen access.

This is not only expected to increase the number of customers who wouldn’t have bought marijuana due to the risk and lack of access, this could potentially skyrocket Washington to number one on the list of drugged driving states. Many advocates point to studies that show there is no change in driving ability when a person is high on marijuana, however, a recent study released this week strongly disputes those claims.

Marijuana and Driving

Researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada reviewed nine studies involving 49,411 people involved in accidents on public roads involving one or more motor vehicles. The study including all vehicles licensed to drive on streets, cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles, where the drivers cited the use of marijuana or use was confirmed by blood tests.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) this month, found drivers who had used marijuana within three hours of beginning to drive had nearly double the risk of causing a collision, especially those that were fatal.

“Results show that if cannabis is consumed before driving a motor vehicle, the risk of collision is nearly doubled. Previous results have also found that there is also a substantially higher chance of collision if the driver is aged 35 or younger,” researchers wrote.

Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug worldwide and rates of its use in drivers are increasing. The study cites a 2007 study in Scotland that found 15% of 537 drivers aged 17 to 39 had used marijuana within 12 hours of driving at the time of the study.

“The consumption of cannabis impairs motor tasks important to safe driving, increasing the chance of collisions and that future reviews should assess less severe collisions from a general driving population,” the authors of the study suggested.

Drugged Driving in Washington State

Currently only 19 states have laws prohibiting any amount of drugs while operating a vehicle, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). The laws in Washington State for driving under the influence (DUI) are pretty explicit.

According to RCW 46.61.502: (1) A person is guilty of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug if the person drives a vehicle within this state:

  • (a) And the person has, within two hours after driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher as shown by analysis of the person’s breath or blood made under RCW 46.61.506; or
  • (b) While the person is under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor or any drug; or
  • (c) While the person is under the combined influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor and any drug.

Testing for drugs is also a lot different than alcohol. Many times a police officer needs to see the telling signs of drug use and take a suspect in for tests alternative to breathalyzer in order to determine the type and amount of drugs taken. The telling signs vary according to the drug the suspect has taken. Some of the signs of various drugs are:

  • Marijuana – This has a distinctive sweet or nutty and smoky smell. Drivers often speak slowly or take longs pauses before responding. They have blood shot eyes and can show signs of fatigue. Field sobriety tests are unreliable. Blood tests and hair follicle tests required.
  • Amphetamines – This category includes cocaine and meth amphetamine. When smoked, they can have a distinct toxic burning smell. There can also be residue left over on the dashboard. The driver speaks quickly in bursts, interrupts, and elicits paranoid behavior. Field sobriety tests are unreliable. Blood tests and hair follicle tests required.
  • Pharmaceuticals and Opioids – Many people don’t view these as dangerous or illegal to drive on, however, many pain killers are made from opium, the same as heroin. These drugs are known as opioids, and they can cause numbness, drowsiness, and blackouts. Field sobriety tests are effective in detecting that the person is under the influence. Blood tests and hair follicle tests required.

Seattle DUI Victims Lawyers

Marijuana legislation and the outcome is only our concern when it comes to the safety of our roads. DUI has been on the decline and is expected to further decline as laws become more strict and the consequences become more costly. Hopefully, if marijuana laws are passed, the proper education programs and media are implemented in order to warn the public and kids about the dangers of marijuana use and driving.

If you or someone you know have sustained serious personal injuries as a victim of a negligent driving accident then you need experienced counsel to protect your interests with the insurance companies and health care providers. Call the Seattle car accident attorneys at Phillips Law Firm for a free consultation.