Illinois lawmakers approved medical marijuana legislation last summer. Starting with the first of the year, qualified state residents will have the conditional right to buy and use the drug. Permission to possess and smoke cannabis will not change state driving restrictions, which ban drivers from operating vehicles while under the influence.
Criminal charges may be filed when any trace of marijuana's active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, is detected in a Chicago driver's system. Charges can be severe and civil actions are possible when drugged driving results in serious injuries or death.
A recent pedestrian accident claimed the life of an 82-year-old Southwest Side woman. A veteran delivery driver was attempting to execute a left turn under a green light, when the pedestrian was struck. The 61-year-old defendant told police he never saw the woman, who died of multiple crash injuries.
Auto-pedestrian accident investigations often are resolved without an arrest but not in this case. The delivery driver appeared impaired following the collision and failed a field sobriety test. A urine test later confirmed the Wheaton defendant had been under the influence of marijuana.
The defendant confessed he used marijuana regularly and had smoked cannabis three days in a row prior to the fatal accident. A felony was among the three DUI charges filed; failure to yield was added. The driver's bond was set at $150,000.
A 2011 study published in Epidemiologic Reviews suggested drivers who used marijuana within a few hours of getting behind the wheel were twice as likely as other drivers to crash. Accident chances increased proportionately with the level of THC in a driver's system. Researchers could not define a "safe limit" for cannabis use, as laws have drawn for driver alcohol consumption.
The passage of the medical marijuana bill may mean more Illinois drivers than ever before will be impaired. Drugged driving is a careless action, which is compensable in civil claims.
Source: Chicago Tribune, "Delivery driver charged with DUI in death of woman killed crossing street" Mitch Smith, Dec. 14, 2013