Legalizing marijuana has high stakes when it comes to driver safety, according to the findings of a new study on marijuana and driving by the Highway Loss Data Institute.
The report shows collision claims reported to insurance companies has increased in Colorado, Oregon and Washington, where recreational marijuana use is legal.
In Colorado, where retail marijuana sales began in 2014, collision claims are up 14 percent compared to the neighboring states of Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming, the study shows. Claims in Washington state increased 6.2 percent compared to Montana and Idaho, and Oregon has seen its frequency of crash claims increase 4.5 percent faster than Idaho, Montana and Nevada, according to researchers.
AAA opposes the legalization of marijuana for recreational use because of the negative impacts it can have on traffic safety, as well as the challenges involved with testing for impairment, said John Paul, Senior Manager for Traffic Safety for AAA Northeast.
“The facts are the facts: Drugged driving is impaired driving and recent studies have shown crash rates have gone up in states where marijuana is legal,” Paul said. “Whether you’re driving under the influence of alcohol or marijuana, you’re still driving under the influence, which is extremely dangerous.”
While some tests have failed to find a link between marijuana use and crashes, consuming marijuana before driving has been shown to increase reaction time and diminish the driver’s ability to maintain a safe distance and maintain his or her lane.
In 2016, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety published research that showed fatal crashes in Washington state more than doubled from 8 percent to 17 percent after the state legalized the drug. About 1 in 6 Washington state drivers involved in a fatal crash had also recently used marijuana, the study found.
What’s more, research has shown that legal limits for marijuana are arbitrary. This could result in stoned drivers going free and others wrongfully convicted for impaired driving.
The HLDI study measured claim frequency, which is the number of collision claims submitted to insurers divided by the number of insured vehicles on the road. While its findings do indicate an upward trend in collision frequencies, its authors do point out that drivers who tested positive for marijuana after a crash were not necessarily under the influence at the time, since habitual users can test positive for marijuana days or weeks after using the drug.
The country is also amidst the largest year-over-year increase in traffic fatalities since the 1960s, which complicated the efforts to measure the effects of the new laws, researchers said.
In addition to Colorado, Oregon and Washington, five others have legalized recreational marijuana use, including the state of Massachusetts. Twenty-one more states have comprehensive medical marijuana programs and an additional 17 permit limited medical marijuana use, according to researchers.
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