Marijuana Contributing to Increase of Highway Deaths?

Without a doubt, marijuana use is controversial and with more states legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, it’s important to continue to be aware of any potential dangers on our roadways. In states, where marijuana use is legal, there’s a greater chance that more drivers will be under the influence. Even more controversial is whether or not marijuana use contributes to the increase of car accidents and roadway deaths.


It’s illegal to drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol in all states. Marijuana, whether legal or not, is treated like any other drug and drivers can be faced with DUI offenses. Although DUI charges are usually given to drivers who are under the influence of alcohol, it is an offense that can be given to any driver who is under the influence of any drug, including but not limited to prescription drugs, legal and illicit drugs.

Drivers Testing Positive for Marijuana Use


There’s a significant increase in the number of drugged drivers on our roads, particularly with the increase of prescription painkillers dispensed and the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana. Despite the possible positive effects these various drugs are having on people’s health and wellbeing, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drugged driving is on the incline while drunk driving is on the decline; though both, particularly together, are still very risky and potentially fatal.


Recent studies show that 40% of fatally-injured drivers tested positive for drugs, which is about the same as the number of fatally-injured drivers who tested positive for alcohol. It is important to note, however, that drivers who test positive for THC (found in marijuana) may not be “high” at the time of the crash, unlike alcohol related crashes where drivers have a more accurate BAC. THC can stay in one’s system for hours, days, and even weeks.

Should Marijuana and Alcohol Be Treated Differently?


Many people feel strongly about how marijuana use should be charged, others are on the fence. Given that marijuana and alcohol have the ability to impair one’s ability to drive it is important to come up with appropriate offenses, but since both can affect drivers so differently they shouldn’t necessarily have the same testing or offenses. The statistics surrounding drivers who test positive for marijuana, drug use, and alcohol aren’t completely clear, some of them are lumped together, making data less accurate.


Here are some recommendations how each state, whether a legal marijuana state or not, can make decisions about how to treat drugged driving or how to teach drivers of all ages about driving under the influence.


  • Planning: Current data should be assessed to understand what is happening now. Older data can be helpful, but it’s difficult to get a clear picture of what is happening if the data is not relevant.



  • Laws: Every law needs to be revisited and reexamined from time to time. For example, if a state that has recently legalized marijuana for medicinal use, that state will want to revisit their drugged driving laws and make sure it’s up to date (how they will incorporate medical marijuana).



  • Training and Testing: Law enforcement, particularly those responsible for patrolling the roads and pulling people over, should be trained in what drug impairment looks like and even smells like. Focusing on the differences between alcohol impairment and marijuana impairment. Additionally, all fatally-injured drivers should be tested for the presence of drugs and the crash data should be tracked separately from alcohol.