Risk and Insurance: What does Marijuana Mean for Personal Injury and Car Accident Claims? – Part 1

Risk and Insurance: What

This blog is the first of two parts, which will discuss marijuana usage’s influence on car accidents and personal injury claims.

A recent online Harris Poll surveyed over 2,000 individuals in the U.S. and revealed that over 98% of Americans felt that using social media and sending or receiving text messages while driving was dangerous, yet only 91% felt driving under the influence of marijuana was. Only 40% of respondents believed that marijuana usage was actually causing vehicle accidents.

Several studies were conducted on the same topic, and though these studies attempted to claim a correspondence between legalization and car accidents, Healthline confirms that a link cannot be confirmed because there are too many factors that could have also caused an increase in car accidents in states where marijuana is legal. The American Journal on Addictions published a paper that offers the same conclusion: the evidence is not out there that marijuana use leads to car accidents. The same paper also confirms that the effects of alcohol on a person operating a vehicle versus the effects of marijuana on a person operating a vehicle are not the same.

Robert Gordon, with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCIAA), however, isn’t buying it. He says that driving after consuming marijuana is “extremely dangerous.” He considers the risks to be similar to that of drunk driving and agrees that the enforcement and penalties should be the same.

Marijuana Legalization

Legalization and decriminalization of marijuana have been the trend across the country in recent years. Medical marijuana use is currently allowed in 29 states and D.C., with recreational usage allowed in eight states and D.C., and decriminalization is in place in 21 states. With this trend, the concerns include that more motorists will be operating their vehicles under the influence.

In Colorado, traffic deaths involving marijuana have risen 48% since it was legalized for recreational usage. The Highway Loss Data Institute reports that overall collision rates have risen about 3% in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon since it has been approved for recreational usage. Three percent, however, is considered statistically insignificant.

That said, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), there were 77 fatal injuries involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana across the state last year. But a positive test does not mean that a person was intoxicated by marijuana while driving — tests can result in a positive if the driver had not consumed marijuana for days prior to the accident. But what it can mean: if you are in an accident and the other driver actually caused the accident, but you tested positive for marijuana, you may not be able to recover damages — or the full amount due to you — without a legal fight. On the other hand, if the other driver tested positive for marijuana, it may increase your chances for compensation. Either way, marijuana may not increase car accidents as suggested, but it could potentially increase car accident personal injury claims, and that’s a problem for auto insurers.

Colorado’s Cannabis Conversation

CDOT has launched a new campaign that seeks to both gather information and emphasize the importance of maintaining roadway safety: the Cannabis Conversation. This campaign seeks to understand why some individuals choose to drive when high and to determine the best means to address it.

Fifty percent of regular marijuana users admit to driving after using marijuana within the prior 30 day period; however, 90% of these users are fully aware that they could be charged with operating under the influence of drugs. Communications Manager Sam Cole says that a “social and behavioral” transition is necessary. Others who have joined the effort include 18 entities within the marijuana industry, non-profit agencies, and universities.

Drugged Driving Laws

Law enforcement in Colorado is increasing its attention to enforcement of operating under the influence of marijuana. Here are some of the details of the law:

  • Those operating under the influence of marijuana in CO will face the same penalties as drunk drivers.
  • Drivers with five nanograms of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per milliliter of whole blood are over the legal limit.
  • Those prescribed medical marijuana are also subject to the laws.
  • It is illegal for drivers or passengers to possess an open container containing marijuana in a vehicle.

Challenges in Detecting Driver Usage

Proving that a driver is actively under the influence of marijuana is currently a challenge. Alcohol usage can be more easily measured with a breath test. Obviously, executing a blood draw is considerably more invasive and does not lend itself to field-based testing. Unlike alcohol, THC in marijuana is capable of being detected in the body for days and weeks even though impairment only lasts a few hours. The state of California is among those pursuing an accurate means of detection. In Michigan recently, a handheld saliva swab machine was being tested for roadside drug detection. But Thomas Marcotte, a researcher at the University of California, says that it will likely take a little longer for the “research and technology” to catch up.

To learn more about risk and insurance and marijuana’s role, come back to read part 2 of this blog.

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