Legal Guide

Car Crash Deaths Rose in States Where Marijuana Became Legal

Like other drugs and alcohol, marijuana alters the brain's function when its blood concentration is high. This means it changes how a person behaves and can contribute to road accidents, especially when combined with alcohol.   

Even with such effects, 19 states and the District of Columbia have already passed legislation legalizing the use of recreational marijuana. 

Increased Traffic Crashes in States Where Recreational Pot is Legal

In July of 2022, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reported a trend of increased traffic crashes in states where recreational pot is legal. According to the report, crashes increased by six percent and fatal crashes by four percent, but no such increases were recorded in states where pot is still illegal.

According to Charles Farmer, a lead researcher with the IIHS, the report is consistent with previous studies that show the legalization of marijuana as a factor in the increasing rates of accidents. 

However, Farmer expressed hope that it is possible to turn the trends around, given that marijuana legalization is still in its early stages. According to Farmer, proper training of law enforcement officers and strict enforcement of DUI laws can help reduce crashes.

States Featured In the Study

In the study, the IIHS looked at the statistics of five states where recreational marijuana is legal for persons over 21. The five states were Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, California, and Washington. This data was compared to data from Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, where recreational marijuana is illegal. 

The study, which also compared data from before and after legalization, showed a 7 percent increase in road crashes immediately after legalization, which later decreased to 6 percent. 

Marijuana often results in drivers driving slightly slower than they would under normal circumstances, which explains why the increase in fatalities shown in the study is significantly lower compared to the increase in crashes. While marijuana is known to affect a driver's reaction time, concentration, lane keeping, and road track, the slower speeds make marijuana-related crashes less deadly.

What the Statistics Showed

The increase in accident rates after the legalization of marijuana differed from state to state. For example, Colorado recorded the highest increase of 18 percent, while California recorded the lowest increase of 6 percent. But not all the states recorded an increase in accident rates; in Nevada, the rate of crashes fell by 6 percent. 

Colorado and Oregon saw a 1 percent and 4 percent increase in fatalities, respectively. At the same time, Washington, California, and Nevada reduced fatalities by 2 percent, 8 percent, and 10 percent, respectively.

While there is no way of establishing that the increment was a direct result of marijuana legalization, there is a high chance it is a big factor as its use has been seen to cause impairment. 

Accidents are 100 Percent Preventable

"Even if a substance is legal, motorists should air on the side of caution and designate a sober driver to help keep everyone safe.” says car accident lawyer Colleen Libbey of Libbey Law Offices LLC. Intoxication-related accidents are preventable and everyone should do their part in keeping the roads safe.”

The level of awareness for marijuana intoxication is not as well-known as alcohol intoxication. The problem is made worse by a pop culture that tends to glorify intoxication as a means of gaining above-normal capabilities in terms of driving.

According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) president, Alex Otte, creating awareness and developing technologies to measure the level of intoxication with marijuana on site will be an excellent way of reducing these deaths.

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