Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana—What’s a Driver’s Liability?

by Staff Blogger | April 20th, 2020

how THC affects drivers

Marijuana is detected in the bloodstream of drivers who have been involved in car crashes more frequently than any other drug. Some research indicates that drivers with marijuana in their system are twice as likely to be responsible for causing crashes than a typical driver.

Whether you believe marijuana impairs a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle, or you think it has no impact at all, one thing is indisputable: driving with THC in your system has legal consequences.

California Considers a High Driver an Impaired Driver

Though recreational use of marijuana is legal in California, it isn’t legal if you’re driving. The consequences of driving while impaired by marijuana can be severe, including a misdemeanor charge, probation, and license suspension.

According to the California Highway Patrol, one impaired driving offense can cost a driver up to $13,500 when including insurance price raises, legal fees, missed time at work for court dates, restricted licensing, criminal records, and other related costs.

What’s A Person’s Liability for Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana?

An impaired driver is a negligent driver. So, if a driver is under the influence of a mind-altering substance such as marijuana, they should be considered at fault when involved in a collision with another vehicle. However, detecting and proving marijuana impairment isn’t easy (which we’ll get to shortly).

Even if a driver’s impairment isn’t detected, their mistakes still make them legally liable for the costs the other driver faces. For example, a stoned driver might rear end another vehicle because their reaction times were impaired. They may not be held accountable for driving impaired if it can’t be proven they were still under the influence of marijuana at the time of the accident, but they can be held responsible for causing the accident.

How Does Marijuana Impact a Driver’s Performance?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse said that marijuana greatly affects a user’s judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time.

The effects of marijuana vary widely from one user to another, which makes it much more difficult to study than alcohol. That’s because a person’s blood-alcohol content is a consistent indicator of their level of impairment, while the same is not true for marijuana.

For example, once a driver’s BAC is double the legal limit, their performance behind the wheel will be severely impacted. Conversely, two people with the same level of THC in their system will be affected in very different ways. However, research shows that marijuana will impact any driver’s performance if they ingest enough of it.

Some drivers who are impaired by marijuana are also driving under the influence of alcohol. THC and alcohol compound each other’s effects, so even if a driver’s BAC is lower than the legal limit, they could still be significantly impaired if they’ve also ingested THC.

How Do You Know if a Driver Is Impaired by THC?

There’s currently no great way to tell if a driver is impaired by marijuana, and it’s a problem for law enforcement. In some cases, an officer who pulls a reckless driver over might smell marijuana in the vehicle or see physical signs of THC impairment, which could justify a request for blood or urine tests.

But even if an officer tests the blood or urine of someone they suspect is impaired, it’s difficult for tests to reveal whether the driver used marijuana minutes, hours, or days before the crash.

Though science could offer solutions that give officers a way to detect marijuana use immediately, it will take time for these technologies to be made available to local police.

The fact that THC is difficult to detect not only makes policing marijuana-impaired drivers difficult, it also makes it hard for someone who was involved in a crash with a potentially stoned driver to prove it.

What to Do If You Suspect the Driver Who Hit You Was High?

First, document the scene of the crash as best as possible. Take pictures of the damage to your vehicle, the license plate of the other driver’s vehicle, and the location of the crash. Call 911 to request an officer, so they can respond to the scene and file a report. If you’ve been injured, seek immediate medical attention.

After you speak to the police and get the care you need, call your insurance company to tell them about the crash. Then, call an attorney, so they can remove any doubt you were at fault, and make sure you get a fair offer from the other driver’s insurance company.

Need Help? Call Berg Injury Lawyers

If you’re involved in a crash with an impaired driver, you deserve payment for all the costs you face. We help our clients get compensation for medical bills, property damage, lost income, and any other costs they face.

Contact our California auto accident attorneys today to schedule a free case review with our team. Let us help you explore all your available legal options.