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Drug Impaired Car Wrecks

The Dangers of Drug-Impaired Driving

As legalized marijuana is now readily available, and as the opioid epidemic rages on with more fervor than ever, so too have the number of injuries and deaths as a result accidents caused by drivers under the influence of drugs. Driving while drugged includes driving while on prescription medications that have the potential to severely impair an otherwise safe driver, and the effects can be just as catastrophic, if not worse.

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 44 percent of all fatally injured drivers tested positive for one or more drugs as recently as 2016. Interestingly enough, a majority of these drivers tested positive for both marijuana and opioids. A positive test for a combination of both marijuana and opioids was actually more common than not.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has also released a report in 2018 indicating that nearly 12.6 million drivers who were 16 or older were under the influence of drugs. They also conducted a study of college students who own a vehicle and found that 1 in 6 were driving under the influence of a drug other than alcohol at least once. Furthermore, 1 in 10 drivers who were 16 to 20 year old were driving while high on marijuana. 

Car accidents as a result of a drug-impaired driver can be catastrophic as a drug-impaired driver has little to no control over their vehicle, resulting in tragic and life altering injuries. 

Effects of Drug-Impairment on Drivers

The effects of alcohol on human physiology are well documented, yet the same cannot be said about the majority of drugs. This is one reason why drugged driving is such a complex legal issue. The effects of one drug versus another will vary widely depending on the individual. A driver who has consumed methamphetamine or cocaine, for example, might be prone to aggressive or reckless behavior. Sedatives, on the other hand, will primarily cause dizziness and drowsiness.

Alcohol is the most common culprit for the majority of all substances involved in substance impaired car crashes, although marijuana is the next most commonly found drug in blood tests conducted on drug-impaired drivers.

Marijuana creates delays in reaction times, affects one’s perception of time and space, and reduces muscle coordination.

Commonly seen effects in a marijuana impaired driver include:

  • Increase in lane changes and weaving.
  • Poor reaction times.
  • Decreased attention to road conditions.

There are tests that can accurately detect levels of THC (the mind altering ingredient in the marijuana plant) yet the role which marijuana actually plays in car crashes isn’t entirely clear.

This ambiguity is partially due to the fact that THC can be detected for days or weeks after being used. This means that a driver may test positive for marijuana immediately after an accident, even if it was consumed long before the car accident actually happened.

Prescription drugs are often linked with drugged driving car crashes. The most common prescription drugs involved in traffic collisions were pain relievers. Many car crashes involving drugged drivers are caused by a combination of prescription and illegal drugs, which only complicates issues of who, or what, is at fault.

Cases involving prescription drugs are especially complicated, and there are several factors which must be assessed and/or proven anytime these types of drugs are involved in a car crash:

  • Warning labels and disclaimers on prescription drug bottles.
  • Whether the person was following or defying doctor’s orders to refrain from driving while taking these drugs.
  • Whether the person was following doctor’s orders regarding the amount of drugs consumed.
  • Expert testimony about a particular drug’s effects on the brain and the ability to drive.
  • Whether the driver was behaving and or driving in a dangerous, erratic manner when the crash occurred.

Colorado, a Case Study in Legalized Cannabis

Whichever side of the debate you may be on, it’s impossible to ignore one eye catching statistic from Colorado since the legalization of recreational marijuana in that state: in 2016, 51 traffic fatalities involved drivers whose THC levels were above the state’s legal limits. When it comes to Colorado, it’s too early to establish a clear correlation between marijuana use and an increase in deadly traffic collisions, as there are too many factors at play and the sample size is too small to draw implicit conclusions. At the same time, it’s impossible to deny the fact that 51 traffic fatalities involved drivers with THC levels above the legal limit.

Consequences of Drug-Impaired Driving

Being convicted of driving under the influence of drugs can possibly carry punitive damages. Punitive damages are those which are awarded on top of the normal damages intended for medical expenses and property loss. Punitive damages are intended to punish the offender and make an example of them .

There is typically no real cap for the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in a personal injury claim. Punitive damages will typically be determined at the discretion of the court.

Contact Us to Find Out How We Can Help

If you have sustained injuries as a result of another driver’s drug impairment, you have the right to hold that driver responsible. An attorney at our firm can help you recover financial compensation for the losses you have suffered, including medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Call us today at (213) 927-3700 or email [email protected] to schedule a free consultation with our experienced, caring, and compassionate legal team

Read More About Car Accidents 

Our excellent team of car accident attorneys have created several other resources for you to read through. Feel free to browse these topics and read the ones you would like to learn about more. 


If you have been injured in an accident, you can count on the legal team at West Coast Trial Lawyers to fight for your rights every step of the way. Contact us today to schedule your free case evaluation with a personal injury attorney.
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