Marijuana legalization has not increased traffic fatalities

Chuck Smith

Perhaps Mark Twain said it best: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed.” Recent headlines were a perfect example of Twain’s observation. 

Some newspapers and news shows played up a story that contends legalized marijuana has made our roads and highways less safe.  It may sound plausible, but the facts don’t support this assertion. In fact, marijuana legalization has not increased overall traffic fatality rates nor the total number of non-fatal crashes, according to two separate studies conducted by Columbia University and the University of Texas-Austin.

Additionally, Colorado State Patrol reports a decrease in the number of driving impaired accidents since marijuana sales became legal.

Despite this academic research and on-the-ground expertise from state police, it was a study from a group supported by auto insurers last week that captured the most – and loudest – headlines. “Car crashes leap in states with legalized marijuana,” was just one of many headlines characterizing The Highway Loss Data Institute’s (HLDI) finding that three states where marijuana is legal – Colorado, Washington and Oregon –  had an increase in traffic accidents.

However, the group lacked any data showing that the increase in collisions was caused by drivers under the influence of marijuana. Although distracted driving such as texting, road construction and more miles driven have been noted by insurance companies as possible factors for increased collision rates, the HLDI asserts that because there was an increase of insurance claims in states with legal marijuana, the two must be linked.

The public safety risk of impaired driving must be taken seriously. It is clear that more studies are needed in this area and should be overseen by experienced researchers and evaluated with reliable data. But in the meantime, it is the details – not the headlines – that Coloradans should assess.

When Colorado voters legalized marijuana, some feared that stoned drivers would create havoc on our roadways.

That didn’t happen. A study released last week in the American Journal of Public Health evaluated crash fatality rates in Colorado and Washington before and after the states legalized marijuana. The researchers then compared those rates to eight control states with similar traffic, roadway and population characteristics that did not alter their marijuana laws.  The changes in motor-vehicle-crash fatality rates observed in Washington and Colorado were not “significantly different” from those observed in the control states.

Another study in the same journal last year found that states with medical cannabis laws had lower traffic fatality rates compared to states where marijuana is not legal.  And there was an immediate decline in car deaths following the establishment of a legal marijuana market – particularly among those under 44 years of age.

Finally, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that while marijuana negatively impacts several skills needed for safe driving, it’s “unclear whether marijuana use actually increases the risk of car crashes.”

Colorado has been the country’s leader in creating a comprehensive regulatory framework that balances consumer safety, law enforcement needs and the formation of a legitimate and responsible cannabis industry. While the research arm of the auto insurance industry asks lawmakers in states considering legalizing marijuana to first look at its study, we ask those lawmakers to look at our regulations, public education campaigns and the collaborative efforts undertaken by our elected officials and the cannabis industry to make marijuana legalization a success in Colorado.

2 Responses to Marijuana legalization has not increased traffic fatalities

  1. Mitch July 10, 2017 at 4:20 pm #

    I don’t know where you got your information from but according to the Denver Post “Colorado has a single statute number for DUI, whether caused by alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two. There is simply no mechanism to track drug impairment, much less marijuana impairment on a statewide basis.” Police have no way to measure THC levels like they do roadside BAC. A small percentage of officer are even trained on judgement marijuana impairment.

  2. Bellchick July 11, 2017 at 7:49 am #

    Happy 420 Mitch !

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