Re­port: Auto crashes on rise in states le­gal­iz­ing recre­ational pot

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - Nation & World - By Ryan Beene

As the push to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana gains mo­men­tum, so is ev­i­dence that more per­mis­sive poli­cies on the drug are putting mo­torists at risk.

The In­sur­ance In­sti­tute for High­way Safety re­ported ina re­cently re­leased study that traf­fic ac­ci­dents are ris­ing in states that have le­gal­ized recre­ational mar­i­juana. That fol­lowed stark warn­ings from the Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board, which has is­sued sev­eral rec­om­men­da­tions to com­bat drug-im­paired driv­ing.

“The last thing in the world that we want is to in­tro­duce an­other le­gal sub­stance where we may be adding to that toll and to the car­nage on our high­ways,” said David Harkey, pres­i­dent of the In­sur­ance In­sti­tute. “With mar­i­juana im­pair­ment, we’re just now start­ing to un­der­stand what we don’t know.”

After re­tail sales of recre­ational cannabis be­gan, the fre­quency of col­li­sion in­sur­ance claims in Colorado, Ne­vada, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton state rose about 6 per­cent higher than in nearby states where mar­i­juana is still il­le­gal, the IIHS said in the study.

A sep­a­rate IIHS study saw a 5 per­cent in­crease in the rate of crashes per mil­lion ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tions re­ported to po­lice in Colorado, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton ver­sus neigh­bors that haven’t le­gal­ized the drug.

“The bot­tom line of all of this is that we’re see­ing a con­sis­tently higher crash risk in those states that have le­gal­ized mar­i­juana for recre­ational pur­poses,” Harkey said.

Recre­ational cannabis is also le­gal in Alaska, Cal­i­for­nia, Maine, Mass­a­chu­setts and Ver­mont while 22 other states have le­gal­ized the drug for med­i­cal pur­poses, ac­cord­ing to the IIHS, which is fi­nanced by in­sur­ers. Harkey said pol­icy mak­ers should take heed of the find­ings as more states are set to con­sider bal­lot ref­er­en­dums or leg­is­la­tion to ex­pand le­gal use of the drug.

Com­bat­ing drug- im­paired driv­ing presents many chal­lenges. Ex­perts say more re­search is needed to bet­ter un­der­stand mar­i­juana im­pair­ment. Mo­torists some­times mix dif­fer­ent drugs, or drugs with al­co­hol, mak­ing it harder to iso­late their ef­fects.

Drugs were de­tected in 30 per­cent of driv­ers who died in ac­ci­dents in 2006 and were tested for drugs, ac­cord­ing to the NTSB. That num­ber jumped to 46 per­cent in 2015. In ran­dom road­side test­ing, more than 22 per­cent of driv­ers showed ev­i­dence of drug use, ac­cord­ing to Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion data.

Among the NTSB’s rec­om­men­da­tions was one that called for the traf­fic safety ad­min­is­tra­tion to de­velop spec­i­fi­ca­tions for “oral fluid” screen­ing de­vices that lawen­force­ment can use to test driv­ers for drug im­pair­ment dur­ing road­side stops.

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