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Auto accidents caused by impaired driving may be fatal but cannot be attributed only to drunk driving. An alarming number of drivers in fatal car accidents in Washington tested positive for recent marijuana use, according to recent research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The proportion of drivers who tested positive for THC has doubled since marijuana was legalized in Washington in Dec. 2012. THC is marijuana’s primary psychoactive ingredient.

In the five years before recreational use was legalized in the state, between 2008 and 2012, an estimated 8.8 percent of motorists in Washington involved in deadly accidents tested positive for THC. This rate climbed to 18 percent between 2013 and 2017, according to the AAA Foundation’s findings.

The average number of THC-positive motorists in Washington also rose. Before the state legalized the recreational use of marijuana, an average 56 motorists in fatal accidents were THC positive. This average rose to 130 in the five years after legalization.

Marijuana use can impede concentration, reduce reaction time, and hinder judgment. Marijuana’s effects vary by individual. But motorists who drive while high were twice as likely to be in a car crash, according to earlier research.

Data from a 2019 AAA survey is also troubling. Approximately 14.8 million drivers admitted they got high while driving within one hour after using marijuana within 30 days before the survey. Almost 70 percent of Americans believe it is unlikely that the police will catch a driver shortly after the motorist used marijuana.

The AAA made recommendations applicable to Washington, the District of Columbia and the 10 other states that legalized the recreational and medical use of marijuana and the 22 other states that only allow its medical use. These include combining a positive test for marijuana with behavioral and psychological evidence that a driver was impaired by THC.

Victims of an accident caused by a drug or alcohol impaired driver may suffer serious or even fatal injuries and substantial expenses. An attorney can help victims and their families seek compensation and timely file a lawsuit.