Lawmakers in New York are considering legalizing marijuana for recreational use. It is already legal in New York for medical use, as it is in the majority of states. The potential recreational legalization has some drivers, police and officials in the state worried about the impact of further legalization and the possibility of more impaired drivers on the state’s roadways. And well they should be concerned. If recreational use becomes legal in the state, what will that mean for driver safety?

Lessons Learned from Other States

Recreational marijuana use is currently legal in 10 states and in Washington, D.C. Some lessons learned from these states might be valuable in understanding the drug’s effects on driving and accidents. A recent report by CBS New York highlighted discussions between New York lawmakers and officials in states where recreational use of marijuana is allowed. Some of the things they heard were not encouraging when it comes to driving safety.

In Colorado, where pot first became legal for recreational use in 2014, there has been a 30 percent increase in fatal crashes since that time. An article in the Denver Post notes that the Colorado Department of Transportation believes that figure is too high to be solely attributed to population growth. The agency points to impaired drivers—although there was no distinction made between drugs and alcohol—and drivers who don’t use seat belts as the two main causes of fatalities. There were 41 percent more impaired driving crashes in 2017 than in 2014, the state’s statistics show.

The CBS New York report also stated that Oregon has seen a six percent increase in fatalities, and in Washington State, 39 percent of marijuana users say they drive within three hours of using pot. A government official from Oregon was quoted as saying that it is not unusual in that state, as well as in other states with legalized marijuana, to see drivers smoking pot behind the wheel.

What Does This Mean for New York?

Some lawmakers, AAA and others in the state say there are some things that need to be put in place before marijuana is legalized for recreational use. Some of the ideas for helping curb increased accidents and fatalities are road-side breathalyzer tests to determine impairment; more police officers trained to recognize drug use and impairment; and educational efforts to convince people that, just as it isn’t okay to drive drunk, it also isn’t okay to drive stoned. A better understanding of how long the drug stays in people’s systems and exactly how it impairs driving is also needed.

What will happen when it comes to legalizing recreational marijuana is yet to be seen. But legalizing the drug shares popular support in the state, so concerns need to be addressed sooner rather than later. The vote on whether to legalize pot for recreational use is expected to take place in April.

If you’ve been in a car accident that you believe was caused by an impaired driver, the qualified professionals at Kaplan Lawyers PC are here to assist you. Our attorneys are available for you to contact 24/7.