Study Links Legalized Marijuana and Car Crashes

Lydia Fleming
June 26, 2017

It found a 3 percent increase in collision claims in those states compared with Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada, where it is not legal.

In the three years following Colorado's and Washington's decisions in 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana, deaths in vehicle crashes did not increase in those states, a new study finds. The newest report about the adoption of the drug claims that States in the country that have legalized marijuana has seen an increase in auto accidents.

After retail marijuana sales began in Colorado, the increase in collision-claim frequency was 14 percent higher than in nearby Utah and Wyoming, according to the report.

Basically, it impacted drivers differently, but the takeaway was predictable: The more marijuana they smoked, the worse their driving became. They compared these rates to those of eight control states that had not enacted any significant changes in their marijuana laws.

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A Columbia University study, which analysed data from 1985 to 2014, shows that states which have legalized marijuana for medical purposes had a lower traffic fatality rate.

A study published previous year in the same journal reported that the enactment of medical marijuana legalization laws is associated with a reduction in traffic fatalities compared to other states, particularly among younger drivers.

Insurance companies found several possible factors at play in the spike including distracted driving through texting or cellphone use, road construction and marijuana use.

These results received lots of play locally and nationally, even though a Colorado State Patrol spokesperson was quoted as saying his agency had actually seen a decrease in driving-impaired accidents since legal recreational marijuana sales began.

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The institute also looked at loss results for each state individually compared to loss results for adjacent states without legalized recreational marijuana use prior to November 2016. It's easier when alcohol is in play because the breathalyzer device exists, but there's nothing of the sort for marijuana, at least, not yet. If you would like to discuss another topic, look for a relevant article.

While more drivers have admitted to using marijuana, previous studies about its impact on driving performance have been inconclusive, the institute said.

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"It would be nice to come up with a better test", says Clarissa Eaton of Concord, "but right now there's nothing concrete that we could use".

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