States with legal marijuana see rise in car crashes: studies
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Car crashes were up as much as 6 percent in states where the recreational use of marijuana has been legalized, said two studies.
According to research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute, the frequency of collision claims filed to insurers were higher in four states where marijuana is legal: Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
The studies were presented Thursday at the Combating Alcohol- and Drug-Impaired Driving summit.
The Highway Loss Data Institute study focused on collision claims between 2012 and October 2017, and compared against four control states where marijuana remains illegal: Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.
A separate study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety focused on police-reported crashes before and after retail marijuana was allowed found Colorado, Oregon and Washington saw a 5.2 percent increase in the rate of crashes per million vehicle registrations, compared with neighboring states.
“States exploring legalizing marijuana should consider this effect on highway safety,” said David Harkey, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data Institute, in a statement.
Nine states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington — and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana use. Meanwhile, Michigan and North Dakota will vote next month on whether to allow marijuana for recreational use.
Several other states have approved the use of marijuana or related products for medical reasons.
The institute acknowledges determining whether someone is impaired by marijuana use in the case of a car accident is difficult. The institute said the presence of THC, the key component in marijuana, in a person’s system does not necessarily mean they were impaired during activities like driving. Also, more drivers are tested for alcohol after crashes.
“Despite the difficulty of isolating the specific effects of marijuana impairment on crash risk, the evidence is growing that legalizing its use increases crashes,” said Harkey.
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