Conflicting Marijuana-Traffic Accident Reports Abound

  • By:David Bate

The legalization of recreational and medical marijuana continues to be a hot-button issue nationwide, and researchers are continuing to explore the impact of legalization in the states that have done so. One area of interest has been the impact of legalizing the drug on impaired driving accidents. Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn’t quite clear, as the studies released so far have been conflicting.

The Denver Post, for example, reported on a 2011 study conducted by professors from Montana State University and University of Colorado Denver that took a look at the impact of medical marijuana legalization on traffic deaths across multiple states. According to that study, when medical marijuana is legalized somewhere, there is a 12 percent decease in the alcohol crash rate and a 19 percent drop in the fatality rates of people in their 20s. The researchers also noted a drop in beer sales, leading them to conclude that younger drivers drink less when the drug is legalized, and this results in a decrease in drunk driving accidents.

Other studies point to an increase in traffic accidents when marijuana is made legal. As reported by CNBC, for example, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently released a study that found auto accidents increased by 3 percent on average in the three states that have legalized the drug for recreational purposes: Oregon, Washington and Colorado. To reach this conclusion, researchers compared claim rates for collisions both before and after the drug was made legal against the claim rates of comparable states where it isn’t legal. Colorado, for example, was compared to Wyoming, Utah and Nebraska.

After running the numbers, the institute said that claim rates were up 4.5 percent in Oregon, 6.2 percent in Washington and 16 percent in Colorado. Institute Vice President Mark Moore pointed out that it is difficult to determine how many accidents drivers on marijuana alone cause because those who tested positive for THC often had alcohol present in their systems as well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol-related crashes are still a massive issue in the US, and that does seem to underscore the conclusion the authors of the 2011 study made. The CDC reports that 28 people die each day, on average, due to alcohol-related crashes, which equates to a death every 51 minutes.

Meanwhile, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that marijuana has been found to delay reaction time and impair coordination and judgment, all of which can be factors in crashes. As with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study, the drug abuse institute notes that it can be hard to determine the drug’s true impact because many drivers also have alcohol in their systems. However, it does go further than that study did by suggesting that the combination of drinking and marijuana use appears to be riskier than just marijuana use alone.

If you have been injured because of an impaired driver, contact an experienced attorney such as the Car Accident Lawyer Denver CO locals trust, and find out more about your case and your rights today.


RichardJ, Banta LawAuthors at Richard Banta provide extensive insight into Personal Injury Law, and accidents.

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