In September 2022, an accident in Tulsa claimed the lives of three teenagers when a 17-year-old driver lost control of her car. The driver now faces charges of first-degree manslaughter and driving under the influence of drugs.
According to Fox News 23, a preliminary report suggested that high speed contributed to the crash. While in the hospital, the driver admitted to using marijuana that day. Subsequent investigations found medical marijuana-related items and confirmed the presence of THC in her blood, underscoring the grave consequences of impaired driving.
Unfortunately, this Tulsa example is not an anomaly. There are adverse consequences in road safety since legalization of marijuana has begun its spread around the United States. A significant body of literature, compiled by Truckingresearch.org delves into the consequences of marijuana legalization on highway safety, with a particular focus on the pioneering states of Colorado and Washington in 2012.
It was noted that fatal accidents involving drivers testing positive for marijuana increased nationally by 10% between 2013 and 2016. A more recent analysis, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that “the percentage of fatalities involving cannabis… increased from 9.0% in 2000 to 21.5% in 2018.”
Why Oklahomans should care about this data
In 2018, Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana. Though a recent ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana failed, there is reason to believe that it may pass in a future ballot.
Why? Because “Tokelahoma” has seen rapid, almost explosive, growth when it comes to cannabis: “There are now roughly 12,000 licensed medical marijuana businesses in the state, including more than 7,000 grow operations and nearly 3,000 dispensaries.” As Politico explains, licenses for these businesses are inexpensive, and there are no limitations on who can apply for a medical marijuana card. As of March 2023, about a tenth of our entire population – approximately 400,000 people – were enrolled in the medical marijuana program.
Anecdotally, the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office claims they’ve seen a “dramatic” increase in drugged driving cases, though they did not supply any numbers to Oklahoma News 4.
So, given the data from other states, it’s safe to assume that marijuana-impaired drivers are on the roads here, and that they pose a risk.
What are the current methods in identifying marijuana-impaired driving in a Tulsa car accident?
Unlike alcohol, marijuana’s effects vary widely due to factors like tolerance, potency, and ingestion method (smoking, eating, or vaporizing). This variability complicates sobriety testing as marijuana can result in diverse user responses. All of these ingestion methods impair an individual’s perspective and can have dangerous consequences on the road.
As such, it is a difficult violation to identify. Presently, the two main methods to detect marijuana impairment involve behavior-based testing through standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs). These tests, administered by police drug recognition experts, are nearly identical to the SFSTs for alcohol impairment. Police will implement tests for eye tracking, walking in a straight line, one-leg standing, and the finger-to-nose test, ideally captured on dash or body cameras. SFSTs are not tailored for identifying marijuana-impaired driving and are often scrutinized by defense attorneys even when identifying alcohol impairment.
The second approach is biology-based, measuring THC concentration in blood. This method, too, is faulty because of the time frame THC remains in the user’s body. Unlike alcohol, which proportionally presents itself in a user’s test reading, THC can be detected weeks or even months after use, long after its psychoactive effects wear off. Research by the AAA Foundation in 2016 and a 2021 study found that, “a quantitative threshold for per se laws for THC following cannabis use cannot be scientifically supported.” Meaning that SFSTs and THC analysis are not methods to reliably identify marijuana impaired drivers.
While standard investigative procedures cannot be relied upon to demonstrate marijuana impairment, an adept team of Tulsa accident injury attorneys can dig deeper to hold marijuana-impaired drivers accountable for their negligence.
Is marijuana usage allowed for commercial vehicle drivers?
No; marijuana is federally illegal. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has a “zero tolerance” policy for THC use, meaning that commercial truck drivers are not allowed to have any THC in their system when operating a commercial motor vehicle. This includes not only the presence of THC in blood but also urine, which can indicate past use. If a truck driver is found to have any THC in their system during a drug test while on duty, it can result in serious consequences, including suspension or revocation of their commercial driver’s license. In spite of this clear legal framework, the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse cited concerning statistics where, “marijuana violations increased 31.6% in 2022,” among commercial truck drivers.
With that, in the case of a commercial vehicle or truck accident, the trucking company can be held liable for an accident if THC is found in their driver’s system, as it is the trucking company’s responsibility to ensure that their drivers are upholding their duty of care to all other road users.
How can Tulsa drivers be held accountable for marijuana-impaired driving?
Since THC being present in the bloodstream does not necessarily indicate impairment, our Tulsa car accident attorneys rely on more than just tests to effectively support your claim against a marijuana-impaired driver:
- Witness statements: If witnesses observed signs of usage of marijuana or erratic behavior behind the wheel this will act as valuable supporting evidence to your claim.
- Accident reports: Responding officers will log any relevant information they observe from the scene of your accident.
- Surveillance footage, including body or dash cam footage: If an SFST was administered, your attorney will be able to dig deeper into this, looking for evidence of marijuana impairment.
- Expert witness testimony: Experienced car accident attorneys should have trusted experts, ready to provide the relevant context that is needed to support your claim.
If you or a family member has suffered injuries in a collision with a suspected marijuana-impaired driver, consult Biby Law Firm, the trusted personal injury attorneys in Tulsa, to fight for your rights and justice. Check our testimonials to see how we have proudly served our Tulsa community through the difficult times following their accident. Call or contact us today and let us begin fighting for you and your family after your accident.
Jacob Biby has spent his legal career helping folks just like you get the resources they need after a personal injury, car accident, or oil field injury. He completed his undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University and earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Tulsa in 2008. Jacob is licensed to practice in all Oklahoma state and federal courts. Learn more about Jacob Biby.