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How does legalized pot affect traffic safety?

Arizona, like nearly half of all U.S. states, has enacted legislation legalizing the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions. Now, a state lawmaker has announced that he plans to introduce a bill in 2015 that could result in the legalization of the drug for recreational purposes.

Even if that measure fails, marijuana reform advocates say they plan to propose a ballot measure the following year, which would allow Arizona voters to weigh in on the issue. One way or another, it seems, the question is on the table. One issue that must be considered in this debate is how legalizing the use of marijuana for recreational purposes could affect traffic safety in the state. As it turns out, that matter is far from settled.

Marijuana affects driving skills less predictably than alcohol

As a baseline matter, experts generally accept the rule of thumb that drivers with any detectable level of marijuana metabolites in their bloodstreams are about twice as likely to be involved in a car crash as drivers without. However, unlike alcohol impairment, it is unclear whether marijuana impairment follows a predictable path as the substance becomes more concentrated in the bloodstream. In other words, some drivers with low THC levels may in fact be just as impaired as those with higher levels, and vice versa.

Thus, defining exactly who is and is not too under the influence of marijuana to drive has proven a difficult task for lawmakers throughout the country as they work hard to keep up with changing marijuana policies. Complicating matters further is the fact that chemical traces of marijuana can remain detectable in the blood stream well after the user has come down from the high — sometimes for a day or more. This factor makes it even more difficult to determine whether a driver is impaired by marijuana.

New study may shed more light on the subject

Recently, federal researchers sought to increase their understanding of these issues by conducting a controlled study of the effects of marijuana use on driving skills. The study took place at the University of Mississippi and involved a group of 20 volunteers between the ages of 21 and 55. Over the course of several months, the drivers were administered a dose of marijuana equivalent to about one joint and asked to perform tasks in a driving simulator. The researchers say it will take them until at least 2015 to analyze the data and release their findings.

In the meantime, however, most experts agree that marijuana use does increase the risk of traffic accidents by slowing users’ reaction times, reducing coordination and impairing their judgment. Thus, the challenge lies in learning to define and predict those risks more precisely. This will assist legislators and law enforcement in their efforts to keep the roads safe from drivers who are too stoned to drive, and to hold drivers accountable for the harm they cause while driving under the influence.

Impaired drivers may be liable to crash victims

If you or a loved one has been hurt in a crash with an impaired driver in Arizona, you may wish to consider speaking with a personal injury lawyer about your legal options. You may be able to recover financial compensation for your injuries and related damages, including lost wages, medical bills and more.

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