The Link Between Marijuana Use and High Death Rates From Crashes

A new study shows that the U.S. states that legalized recreational marijuana has increased car crashes and deaths. Researcher, Charles Farmer, confirms this study. Charles Farmer is the vice president for research and statistical services at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Like alcohol and nearly all other drugs, marijuana can alter the behavior and performance of a driver. “People need to understand driving after consuming marijuana is not a good idea,” says Farmer.

Farmer and his team discovered that the rate of car crashes and injuries increased by almost six percent after marijuana legalization. Fatal crashes also increased by six percent. The researchers also noticed no increase in these crashes in states that had not legalized marijuana.

Farmer notes that the results correspond with prior studies, inferring that the legislation on marijuana does not come without a cost. However, he admits that marijuana legalization is still new, so there is the hope of reverting the early trends. He believes there are ways to prevent the consequences of driving under the influence of marijuana.

According to Farmer, some of these ways include proper education and enforcement strategies. With them, states that legalize marijuana can learn to avoid the increase in crash rates.

More Details About the Research

During the study, Farmer and his team compared five states that legalized recreational marijuana (for people 21 and older) with states that did not. The five considered states with marijuana legalization are Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada. The other states that did not legalize marijuana are Arizona, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

The study found that car accidents resulting in injuries increased by almost seven percent after marijuana use became legal. But, this increase was also before retail sales of the drug began. Less than one percent of crashes occurred after retail sales started, while fatal crashes increased roughly two percent before and after.

The researchers noted that marijuana-impaired drivers usually drive slowly. Even though they might be unable to escape a collision, Farmer speculated that the impact might be less fatal due to their slower speed. Their previous studies concluded that marijuana use affects reaction time and attention, which increases the chance of a crash.

Farmer doubts that the legalization of marijuana is the only factor causing an increase in crash rates. In his opinion, it is impossible to account for the role marijuana plays in car accidents adequately. Unlike alcohol testing, there are no objective measurements of impairment associated with marijuana.

After legalization and the start of retail sales, different states experienced different increases in crash rates:

  • Colorado experienced the highest hike (18 percent), and California experienced the fewest (six percent).
  • Nevada’s rate dropped (by seven percent).
  • In terms of fatal crashes, Colorado (one percent) and Oregon (four percent) had increased.
  • Washington (two percent), California (eight percent), and Nevada (ten percent) saw decreases.

What Can We Learn From the Study?

Despite the doubts, Farmer’s study still proves a link between marijuana and the rates of crashes. The only reasonable move will be to create awareness about the dangers of driving while under its influence. At least, that is what some experts recommend. Ryan McPhie, a lead attorney at Grand Canyon Law Group, dedicates his life to reminding his community of the long-term effects of driving under the influence. McPhie states that “an increase in awareness is needed for drivers everywhere. Driving under the influence whether it be alcohol or drugs is a serious thing and should be discussed under the same umbrella.”

Alex Otte, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, emphasizes that driving under the influence of drugs is preventable. She opines about a cultural change and the need for people to understand it is not safe to drive after smoking marijuana.

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