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Legalized marijuana in Illinois raises questions regarding motor vehicle safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that approximately one-third of all fatal motor vehicle accidents involve an impaired driver. Illinois has new recreational marijuana laws, and it raises a question: how will the new law affect highway safety?

Studies show marijuana use slows reaction time, impairs time-and-distance perspective, and causes coordination problems. That is not a good combination for someone who is driving.

How are THC levels measured?

There are no proven methods to accurately measure marijuana levels in the blood. Alcohol can be accurately measured in the blood hours after someone consumed it. However, THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can be in your system for days and weeks.

THC is released into the blood stream more slowly than alcohol. This can lead to uncertainty over whether a driver in an accident was impaired.

How likely is it for marijuana users to be in an accident?

Centers for Disease Control statistics say:

· Someone dies every 50 minutes in the U.S. in impaired-driving-related accidents.

· As more states legalize marijuana, the CDC estimates 13 percent of nighttime, weekend drivers in those states will have marijuana in their system.

· One-fourth of all marijuana users are likely to be in an accident.

Have crash numbers increased in states with legalized marijuana?

Insurance industry studies of Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington so far have found accident rates increased after those states legalized recreational marijuana use. Accident rates are higher than neighboring states that have not legalized marijuana.

How strict should law enforcement be?

Some people have reported they were wrongly arrested because officers smelled marijuana on their clothes. These drivers say they smoked weed legally and were not impaired while driving. The counterargument is every precaution should be taken to stop impaired driving.

One thing is certain: the debate over marijuana and highway safety will not end soon.

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