Legal Marijuana States - Will Car Insurance Rates Go Sky High?

Fran Majidi
June 27, 2019

In Illinois, people wait to find out if legalizing marijuana will cause a spike in car insurance claims. Any day now, the governor may sign legislation which would allow the sale of marijuana, and transportation experts are already issuing warnings about safety on the road. After all, in states that have already legalized cannabis insurance premiums have gone up due to a spike in vehicular accidents. Based on data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute, crashes in legal-marijuana states (Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) increased as much as 6% since these states legalized cannabis. 

“The research on marijuana and crashes indicates that legalizing marijuana for all uses is having a negative impact on the safety of our roads,” said David Harkey, president of the two institutes. He also warned states exploring marijuana legalization that they should consider the impact on highway safety.

However, the numbers on spikes in accidents become fuzzy when you consider the idea that it’s not marijuana that is causing collisions. Information on driver drug use and drug testing is too inconsistent and unreliable to really determine what’s causing so many more accidents. The most difficult part of testing, for instance, is determining whether the accident was caused by alcohol use or marijuana use when the two are used simultaneously. And often, they are used together so it’s impossible to isolate one from the other when analyzing accidents.

Marijuana and Car Accidents

The biggest obstacle in decreasing collision rates is the general perception that marijuana doesn’t impair one’s judgement behind the wheel the way texting and driving or drinking and driving do. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that over 13% of Americans think that driving within an hour of marijuana use is not very dangerous at all. The truth is that even with moderate usage, the user is often unaware of the effects of marijuana use, like slower reaction time, impaired coordination and distorted perception. There’s also the problem of testing for marijuana use, a process that remains largely problematic in most states. There have been mentions of breathalyzers and swab tests but these and other similar procedures are unreliable because of how long THC stays in the system. In Colorado, blood tests are given to determine THC level in the blood but in California, there are no standard procedures in place. It’s hard to say which way Illinois will go with this complicated issue.

Marijuana DUI Laws

In short, it’s illegal to smoke or ingest cannabis and drive in states that have legalized marijuana. Not only is impaired driving a crime, you can also be arrested for having any marijuana or paraphernalia in your car. The rule is to keep the marijuana (and paraphernalia) out of reach while driving (in the trunk for instance). In most cases, a marijuana DUI is issued after the person is pulled over for an unrelated reason and the drug is found. It is illegal to smoke marijuana or consume edibles in a vehicle, even if it’s parked. The laws are very similar to those for alcohol (DUI vs DUID).

What Happens if You’re Caught Smoking Pot and Driving?

If you are suspected of consuming marijuana and driving, an expert will be called in to evaluate your condition. This “drug-recognition evaluator” will detect the smell of marijuana, dilated pupils, red eyes, an elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure and dry mouth. If you’re arrested, you may be taken in for a blood test. 

If you’re arrested for impaired driving, a DUID carries the same penalties as a DUI. In California, a first conviction carries fines between $1,800 and $2600; two days (maximum six months) in jail; license suspension for three days (maximum 10 months); a 90-day restricted license; mandatory drug-treatment program; SR-22 insurance filing for three years; 3-5 years probation; vehicle may be impounded for up to 30 days. 

A second conviction carries fines between $1,800 and $3000; 10 days in jail; a mandatory 18-30 month drug treatment program; license suspension (one to two years maximum; Two-year restricted license; SR-22 insurance filing (up to five years maximum); 10 year probation; vehicle impounded for up to 30 days.

A third conviction carries between $1,800 and $18,000 in fines; 120 days in jail (one year max); license suspension up to three years; 30-month multi-offender drug treatment program.

Vehicle impounded for up to 90 days or the complete loss of vehicle; felony charges if someone is killed or hurt in an accident.

 A fourth conviction carries between $1,800 and $18,000 in fines; 16 months in state prison maximum; license suspension for four years; 30-month drug-treatment program; impounding of vehicle up to 90 days or loss of vehicle; charges of felony even when no one gets hurt and an accident hasn’t occurred.

Car Insurance Quotes

It’s important to keep your driving record clean. A marijuana DUI (or marijuana DUID) is an expensive inconvenience, especially when it comes to buying car insurance. If you’ve had a DUI and need an SR 22 filing, visit here. If you have a clean record and live in a legal marijuana state, be careful and never smoke/ingest and drive. You should also never pay too much for auto insurance. To see if you can lower an insurance rate, get a free car insurance quotes.

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