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Road safety advocates fear surge in marijuana impairment

New Jersey is among several states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, but some road safety advocates believe that laws like the one passed in the Garden State could lead to a sharp increase in impaired driving accidents. They point to crash data from Colorado, Oregon and Washington revealing that traffic collisions rose after marijuana was approved for recreational use, but experts say that the data is inconclusive and does not link the rise in accidents with increased consumption of the drug.

A poll conducted on behalf of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America suggests that most Americans are more concerned with road hazards such as distracted driving than they are about marijuana impairment. While an overwhelming 91 percent of those polled believed that driving after smoking marijuana was dangerous, only four out of 10 of the respondents felt that the drug contributed significantly to the alarming rise in car accidents observed over the last few years.

Marijuana is known to impair mental functions and slow reaction times, but research has yet to prove that drivers under the influence of the drug are more likely to crash. The data shows that younger drivers are more likely to be impaired by marijuana than by alcohol, and some advocates believe that more public awareness campaigns are needed to educate motorists about the risks of driving while under the influence. Targeting these campaigns at parents rather than children may be prudent as studies have found that only 30 percent of parents have had conversations with their children about the dangers of impaired driving.

Drivers who cause serious injuries or death while impaired often face serious criminal sanctions and sometimes spend years behind bars. When negligent motorists lose their lives in the accidents they cause or face the prospect of long periods of incarceration, experienced personal injury attorneys could seek compensation for their victims by initiating lawsuits against their insurance companies or estates.

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