Blame the Pot, Not the Pothole: Marijuana and North Carolina Traffic Accidents

According to a May 2012 Rasmussen poll, a solid majority of Americans now see smoking pot as a personal decision on par with drinking alcohol. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that in 2009, 16.7 million Americans used marijuana in an average month. Unfortunately, the increased acceptance of marijuana use also has meant a rise in impaired drivers on North Carolina roads.

What’s so bad about driving while high?

Driving under the influence of marijuana skews a driver’s coordination, delays his reaction time, scrambles memory, and alters his judgment. More subtly, pot can alter a person’s power to assess his own behavior, so he may not realize his ability to drive safely has been compromised. The trouble is, when it comes to driving after marijuana use, the risks are real.

Consider the following recent scientific data:

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in its 2007 National Roadside Survey of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers, found that 8.6 percent of nighttime drivers who gave blood samples to researchers tested positive for marijuana use.
  • NIDA’s December 2010 report on Drugged Driving cites studies conducted around the country that found “approximately 4 to 14 percent of drivers who sustained injury or died in traffic accidents tested positive for THC,” the active ingredient in marijuana.
  • NIDA also advises us that a review of 60 previous studies “found that behavioral and cognitive skills related to driving performance were impaired in a dose-dependent fashion with increasing THC blood levels.”
  • A 2011 white paper by the Institute for Behavior and Health reported that “33% of fatally injured drivers with known drug test results were positive for drugs other than alcohol.” 
  • A study published in the British Medical Journal in February 2012 found that driving a motor vehicle after smoking pot more than doubles the risk of a car crash.

North Carolina’s Per Se Law

Several states, including North Carolina, have passed per se laws, which attempt to discourage drugged driving by making it illegal to operate a motor vehicle if there is any detectable level of a prohibited drug in a driver’s blood. While that sounds good in principle, there are gaps in how the law works. North Carolina’s zero-tolerance drug law, which took effect in 2006, applies only to schedule I controlled substances for adults.

Marijuana is a schedule VI under state law; therefore, an adult driver who tests positive for marijuana but no other drug is not covered under the per se law. However, the per se law has zero tolerance for drivers under age 21 with any amount of any controlled substances in their bodies.

Of course, criminal charges still can be brought against a stoned adult driver for his functional driving impairment. 

Injured by a Drugged Driver in New Hanover County? Contact Speaks Law Firm

Call our experienced Wilmington traffic accident lawyers at 910-341-7570 or toll-free at 877-593-4233 today if you’ve been hurt by a stoned driver. Just for the call, we will send you a FREE copy of our book, The North Carolina Auto Injury Book, and also offer you a FREE confidential consultation about your potential legal case. You may be able to recover compensation for your medical bills and other losses. 

R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.