Study: Crash rates rose in states that legalized marijuana

Attitudes across the U.S. have shifted dramatically on marijuana use in recent years. A Pew Research poll released in April found that a whopping 91 percent of American adults favor either medical marijuana legalization or legalization of both medical marijuana and recreational use. Only 8 percent oppose both forms of legalization.

A change in Alabama law

In May of this year, Alabama became the 36th state to legalize medical marijuana. An effort to decriminalize possession of less than two ounces stalled in the state Senate, however.

Will Alabama eventually join the 18 states (plus Washington D.C.) that have legalized recreational marijuana use? We don’t know the answer to that question, but we do know that the findings in a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) are likely to become part of the opposition to cannabis legalization.

Vehicle wreck rates

According to the IIHS, the rate of motor vehicle crashes rose after marijuana legalization in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Colorado.

“Our latest research makes it clear that legalizing marijuana for recreational use does increase overall crash rates,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “That’s obviously something policymakers and safety professionals will need to address as more states move to liberalize their laws — even if the way marijuana affects crash risk for individual drivers remains uncertain.”

Why is marijuana use dangerous for drivers? Driving simulator tests show that drivers who are high are slower to react, less likely to pay attention and they find it more difficult to maintain their vehicle’s position in a lane.

Diving into data

The IIHS says that legalization in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Colorado resulted in a 6 percent increase in the rate of auto accidents that involved injuries. There was also a 4 percent rise in fatal crash rates when compared to neighboring states that did not legalize marijuana.

A news report notes that there’s also evidence that relaxation of cannabis laws might be contributing to a rising danger posed by drivers who use both marijuana and alcohol.

A recent survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers who self-reported using both substances “were more likely than those who had only consumed alcohol to say they had driven while impaired and engaged in dangerous driving behaviors” that include speeding and making aggressive maneuvers.

We don’t know if Alabama will take the next step and legalize marijuana, but it’s clear that the IIHS study should be part of future discussions about legalization and road safety.

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