Report: Auto crashes on rise in states legalizing recreational pot
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.