Drivers warned against dagga use

14 November 2018 - 07:45
By thuli zungu AND Thuli Zungu
Smoking marijuana  for medicinal purposes has recently been declared legal.
Image: 123RF Smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes has recently been declared legal.

Smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes is now legal in SA. However, drivers are warned they might not be covered by car insurance companies for damage to their vehicles if proven to have been under the influence of the herb at the time of an accident.

Ernest North, co-founder of car insurance business Naked, advised users not to smoke and drive.

North said car insurance companies will need to relook the wording of their policies following a recent Constitutional Court ruling that legalised personal possession and use of dagga, noting that most insurers will tighten these clauses to address the usage of cannabis.

"They will need to define what it means to drive under the influence of the drug as well as how to measure intoxication," North said, adding that most car insurers have clauses in their policies stating that drivers will not be covered if they are found to have been under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of an accident.

"These clauses are used to address drunk driving. The insurer will not pay a policyholder's claim if the alcohol content in the driver's blood or breath exceeds the legal limit."

North explained that most policies include clauses to the effect that a driver must take reasonable steps to prevent loss or damage to the vehicle.

So, if you are high on dagga, you are materially increasing your risk of having an accident, and might not be covered as per those clauses.

He said insurers might use witness accounts of the driver's usage of dagga and behaviour before they got behind the wheel to determine whether the driver should be covered for the accident.

There is not yet a universally accepted way to prove that someone was driving under the influence of excessive dosage of marijuana that compares to the breathalyser for alcohol, said North, noting that the driver may be required by authorities to take a blood test.

The insurance company may also reject a claim if the insurance holder refuses to submit to a test to determine the level of alcohol or drugs in their blood upon request by the authorities.

"Blood tests can reveal recent usage, but there is no definitive way to show that a person has had a level of exposure that would affect his or her judgement at the time of an accident."

Usage of drugs, including many prescription painkillers, can significantly increase risks of hurting yourself and others in a collision, he said. "Even a moderate dose of marijuana can reduce your inhibitions, make you overconfident, and slow down your reflexes."

North said some users might even experience hallucinations, nausea, panic attacks, or fall asleep at the wheel.

"The fact that marijuana is prescribed for pain management and other medical purposes complicates matters further," North explained.

He said alcohol usage was recreational in nature, making it easy to tell people not to drink and drive.

But technically, as insurance contracts stand, insurers could investigate and if there is proof of having consumed marijuana to the extent that it affected driving behaviour then they could reject the driver's insurance claim for cover.