Study Links Legalized Marijuana and Car Crashes

Wayne CurryJun 24, 2017

The group, known for publishing insurance loss statistics, says it has found a link between legalized pot and a surge in vehicle accidents.

Their study sifted through years of insurance claims related to collisions and found that accidents rose 16 percent in Colorado, 6.2 percent in Washington state and 4.5 percent in OR after those states okayed recreational marijuana.

The agency looked at collision claims in Washington, Oregon and Colorado before and after respective legalization took place, comparing claim frequency with five neighboring states: Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

"The states that made marijuana legal appear to have seen some increases in collision claims, but there is no evidence that marijuana contributed to those increases".

A study published past 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. It also tracked the same information in control states: Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, each of which has varying levels of legalization between full prohibition and medical use.

Smoking marijuana is still widely stigmatized in the United States, and it's possible that people stay home when they use this drug, instead of going out to the bars the way people do when they drink alcohol, he added.

More drivers have admitted that they use marijuana, but past research on the impact of driving while high remain inconclusive, experts said.

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And there's no evidence to suggest that these states are seeing more vehicle accidents due to cannabis.

However, the number of fatal auto accidents did not increase in these states, according to another study by the University of Texas in Austin.

Researchers said there was no significant change in the number of fatal auto crashes in the states where recreational marijuana use was legalized and the control states. Retail sales began in January 2014 in Colorado and in July 2014 in Washington.

This number came from comparing the three weed-friendly states with the control group. OR voters approved legalized recreational marijuana in November 2014, and sales started in October 2015.

However, Moore believes this provides clear answers that crash risks have increased in these three states where marijuana is legal, but understands that more research needs to be done.

"The increased availability of marijuana may be reducing alcohol use in some states", said Santaella-Tenorio.

Recreational marijuana laws have amounted to a "giant social experiment", Aydelotte said, and officials are now finding out how legal pot can affect public safety.

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