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Marijuana use and its impact on road safety

With the legalization of cannabis on the Canadian horizon, drivers should be aware of the dangerous impact smoking it could have on road safety, says Toronto critical injury lawyer Dale Orlando.

“Marijuana impairs a driver’s ability to operate a motor vehicle because they are less attentive, use less vigilance and have a reduced perception of time and speed,” says Orlando, partner with McLeish Orlando LLP.

“People would be naive to think pot doesn’t have an impact on driving ability,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com. “They could be making a mistake and they could cause an accident.”

According to a study in the American Journal of Addictions, cannabis smokers tend to have a greater awareness of their impairment, but their reaction time and other important driving skills — such as tracking, motor co-ordination, visual function and ability to multitask — are greatly reduced. The negative effects are often multiplied when alcohol is combined with weed.

“Combining marijuana with alcohol eliminates the ability to use such strategies effectively… and results in impairment even at doses which would be insignificant were they of either drug alone,” the study says.

The U.S. states of Washington and Colorado have already seen an increase fatal crashes linked to the drug, which was legalized there in recent years, the Globe and Mail reports.

In both states, the overall number of people killed in crashes increased by only a handful, but the percentage of those accidents in which the drivers tested positive for marijuana increased considerably,” the article says.

The Liberal government’s task force looking at cannabis legalization has recommended the need for public awareness campaigns and better roadside testing devices. At present, officers perform a standardized field sobriety test with additional testing done by a drug recognition expert if necessary, the CBC reports.

Orlando says it's difficult to say if pot legalization will lead to a similar increase in fatal accidents in Canada. He expects the same people who take risks today would continue to take risks on the road into the future — meaning no overall increase in road crashes. 

But from a personal injury law perspective, traffic accidents involving marijuana will have little effect on the legal analysis, Orlando says.

“It’s negligence, and that doesn’t change whether you are high or drunk or distracted by your cellphone,” he says. “It doesn’t matter why the driver is negligent, we just have to show the person is responsible."

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