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Car Crashes on the Rise in “Pot-Legal” States

New study suggests a 6% jump in collisions.

by on Oct.18, 2018

A new study suggests that states where recreational marijuana is legal, car crashes are up 6%.

With all of the talk about blue waves and red waves coming in the November election, a couple of new studies show that Americans may want to direct their attention to the “green” wave: recreational marijuana.

Several states have measures on ballots to make the recreational use of marijuana legal, just as the aforementioned studies show that vehicle crashes are up as much as 6% in states where it is already legal.

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Crashes are on the rise in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, compared with neighboring states that haven’t legalized marijuana for recreational use, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) shows. 

The findings are important as many of the campaigns to decriminalize marijuana are gaining traction with voters and legislators in the U.S.

(Gas prices on the rise despite drop in consumption. Click Here for the story.)

“It’s certainly early in the game” and the data is far from conclusive, David Harkey, president, IIHS-HLDI, exclusively told

Unlike with alcohol, there is no simple solution fo testing for for marijuana. But “We’re seeing a trend in wrong direction.”

HLDI analysts estimate that the frequency of collision claims per insured vehicle year rose a combined 6% following the start of retail sales of recreational marijuana in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, compared with the control states of Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. The combined-state analysis is based on collision loss data from January 2012 through October 2017.

A separate IIHS study examined 2012–16 police-reported crashes before and after retail sales began in Colorado, Oregon and Washington. IIHS estimates that the three states combined saw a 5.2% increase in the rate of crashes per million vehicle registrations, compared with neighboring states that didn’t legalize marijuana sales.

(Click Here to see how highway fatalities could again top 40k this year.)

Legalization of recreational use is pending in New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. In November, Michigan and North Dakota will hold referendums on marijuana, and Missouri and Utah voters will decide whether to expand medical marijuana laws in their states.

Aside from the rise in collisions after approving the use of recreational marijuana, there are concerns about when marijuana is used. Crashes involving alcohol typically take place at night as that’s when most drinking is done. However, marijuana smokers aren’t nearly as “selective.”

Fourteen percent of those who participated in a roadside study by IIHS had children in the car. That reflects the fact that people are more likely to use pot at any hour versus alcohol which tends to be used in more specific time periods.

(For more on the campaign and drugged-driving problem, Click Here.)

On top of that, testing for operating under the influence is, well, not as “tidy” as it is for alcohol. Currently, it is unclear how to properly test for pot use as the active ingredient, THC, remains in the body for weeks, long after it stops having a psychoactive impact.

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