This is the second segment of our discussion concerning how marijuana usage can lead to car accident injury claims. In the first segment, we discussed the national trend of marijuana legalization in states. Also, Colorado's efforts to increase awareness of the dangers of “high driving,” law enforcement efforts, and the challenges in detecting if a driver is impaired by marijuana. Drivers in fatal crashes are increasingly testing positive for marijuana in Colorado, with a rise from 627 to 880 fatal accidents between 2013 and 2016. In 2013, roughly 10% of drivers in fatal crashes tested positive, but in 2016 this number doubled to approximately 20%. One important thing to remember is that with the recent changes to marijuana laws, the frequency of testing for marijuana is higher now than in years past.
Business Risk & Liability
Marijuana usage can have ramifications for employers. Those possessing a fleet of employees who drive company vehicles may encounter potential problems stemming from drivers using marijuana. The majority of employers will have written guidelines that prohibit all drug usage for those reporting to work. These guidelines could face potential legal challenges as more people are prescribed marijuana for medicinal purposes. If an employee is involved in an accident while under the influence of marijuana, the business will face increases in liability insurance rates and the employee can be terminated and have significant difficulty passing a background check for similar work that involves driving.
Commercial Truck Drivers
Rules regarding the usage of marijuana and other controlled substances are defined rather clearly for those with a commercial driver's license (CDL). Truck operators are closely regulated at the federal level by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The rules state that no CDL holder may report for duty or remain on duty if he or she used controlled substances, which include marijuana. Company managers should be certain that they are in compliance with federal drug-testing protocol for drivers, and with the help of legal counsel, draft written company policies about marijuana usage.
Drug Recognition Experts
In the previous segment, we discussed that several “pilot” programs have been underway in hopes of finding a reliable means of conducting roadside field tests to detect driver usage of marijuana. With these possibilities still uncertain, law enforcement has been ramping up efforts to have more of their officers certified as drug recognition experts. The program began in the 1970s by the Los Angeles Police Department and has since been assumed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The program trains officers on recognition of drug usage. Some examples of factors they consider in a traffic stop may include physical and mental characteristics -- like dilated pupils, increased pulse, short-term memory lapses -- and dozens of field tests.
Usage Correlating With Colorado Traffic Fatalities
The Denver Post investigated coroner reports to better evaluate if the legalization of marijuana has made the Colorado roadways more dangerous. Many of these reports contained test results from those killed in crashes. Some results revealed surprisingly high levels of marijuana, suggesting recent usage and usage of more potent marijuana. In 2016, over 10 drivers were determined to have been operating at five times the legal limit or more. Their research suggests the number of drivers testing positive has increased at a higher rate than the increase in users since legalization. John Jackson, Chief of Police in Greenwood Village, feels that marijuana usage among drivers is a major safety problem that is taking lives.
Correlation Between Legalization & Insurance Claims
Washington, Oregon, and Colorado have begun sales of marijuana for recreational purposes to those ages 21 and older. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) has been tracking the frequency of accident claims in these states since legalization began. All three saw a correlation between marijuana sales and higher frequencies in collision claims. When comparing these three to neighboring states, the results were apparent. Colorado saw a 13% higher volume of claims than Nebraska, Utah, and Wyoming. Washington and Oregon saw a claims disparity between 4.5% and 6.2% compared to Idaho, Montana, and Nevada. All three states averaged approximately a 4.5% rise in claims since retail sales began.
Insurance companies, however, have an agenda. They want a correlation between marijuana and car accidents so they can argue a reason for an increase in insurance rates. With that intention in mind, they will find a correlation in the data, even if other factors explain the correlation. You should always consult an attorney if you have been in a car accident and sustained injuries, regardless if you consumed marijuana anytime before getting into your vehicle.